Metro

In latest mishap, seawater rains down inside a Martha’s Vineyard car ferry

Off of Woods Hole, MA -- 4/02/2018 - A ferry is seen from The M/V Katama as it heads to Wood's Hole. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff) Topic: Reporter:
Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
More than 500 ferry trips were canceled for mechanical problems in the first four months of the year.

A Steamship Authority boat’s sprinkler system poured seawater onto vehicles parked on the vessel’s car deck as it journeyed to and from Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday — just the latest in a series of recent mishaps for the agency.

Seawater, which can damage cars because of its corrosive salt content, spewed out for nearly an hour at varying rates over the course of two trips, one from the island to Woods Hole and another in the opposite direction, the authority’s general manager, Robert Davis, said in an e-mail.

He said the agency did not receive reports of damage to any cars or any complaints that riders had gotten wet. But he said authority officials had reached out to one passenger.

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“While the customer did not immediately report any issues, we wanted to follow up to make sure that there were no problems for example we were not sure if their windows were open for any water to splash inside,” Davis wrote.

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There were 46 vehicles on the first trip and 44 on the second, Davis said.

He said there was “only minor puddling in a few low spots” on the car deck, which is a separate space from the passenger cabin.

Davis said the incident occurred after crews conducted “routine tests” of the sprinkler pump while it was on the first trip, adding that it was “normal procedure to test the sprinkler pump both with vehicles and without vehicles” aboard.

However, it’s not normal for the system to discharge water. The Martha’s Vineyard Times published a brief video of the leaking water.

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It happened aboard a ferry called the “Martha’s Vineyard,” which has been plagued lately by a series of mechanical issues ever since coming back from an $18 million refurbishment project in early March.

That project was done by Rhode Island contractor Senesco Marine. After the vessel returned to the Steamship Authority, staff there documented more than 250 problems. The problems identifed included a need for modifications to sprinkler piping.

Davis said Wednesday’s sprinkler issues were not connected to any of the work that was done as part of that project.

The authority has cast blame on Senesco for other problems recently, saying the company’s work was subpar and played a role in mechanical breakdowns of that boat and two other authority boats that also underwent upgrades at Senesco’s facility.

Senesco has defended its work, attributing many of the issues on authority boats to work done by other vendors selected by the authority.

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The authority countered that by saying no matter which company did the work, Senesco is contractually responsible for the results.

The back-and-forth has significant implications as Senesco is one of just two companies the authority has relied on for major boat projects.

The breakdowns of the three boats Senesco worked on, coupled with other mechanical problems that sidelined other ferries, have put the Steamship Authority in an unflattering spotlight.

The agency had to cancel more than 550 trips due to mechanical problems in just the first four months of the year, an unprecedented total about 15 times the yearly average.

Since the end of April, there have been more cancellations, including two trips that had to be canceled Wednesday when the agency’s fast ferry needed repairs to its radar system.

Still, the number of mechanical-related cancellations fell to 80 in April, a marked improvement from March when they were at their worst with 441.

And in May, only 19 trips were canceled due to mechanical issues. Still, even that total was about four times higher than the average number of cancellations during that month over the previous four years, according to internal records provided by the authority.

Davis has acknowledged that his quasi-public agency bears some responsibility for the problems.

The authority’s governing board recently directed the agency to hire consultants to conduct a review. On Tuesday, the board chose Seattle-based HMS Consulting and Technical, LLC, to conduct the review. The firm has quoted the agency a cost of $217,976.

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mrochele