SSA Hindered by Disruptions
From Breakdowns to Bomb Scares, Boat Line Service Interrupted on Vineyard and Nantucket Over Course of the Week
By James Kinsella
Gazette Senior Writer
Increased security, a bomb threat and mechanical breakdowns have made ferry travel to and from the Vineyard and Nantucket anything but routine over the past 10 days.
A telephoned bomb threat to the Hy-Line ticket office on Nantucket shortly after 8 p.m. Sunday led the Coast Guard to shut down ferry traffic into and out of the port until early Monday morning. The precaution stranded Steamship Authority and Hy-Line passengers both on Nantucket and in Hyannis.
The caller, an adult male, said not to let the next ferry leave Nantucket, or the vessel would be blown up.
At 8:16 p.m., the Coast Guard was notified of the threat. The Coast Guard captain of the port, Roy Nash, who is based in Providence, R.I., suspended ferry operations at the port.
Security sweeps of SSA and Hy-Line vessels by Nantucket police and ferry crew members did not find any suspicious objects or explosive devices. The Coast Guard reopened Nantucket harbor early Monday morning.
The harbor shutdown came at a time when fog had closed Nantucket Memorial Airport.
On Sunday night, the Nantucket fire department opened Nantucket High School as a shelter to stranded ferry passengers from the SSA and Hy-Line. Fire chief Everett Pierce said 65 people and a dog stayed at the shelter. The department brought in food from the Stop & Shop and used Nantucket Regional Transit Authority buses to bring passengers to the school.
"People remained calm, they made the best out of a bad situation, and they left in the morning," Mr. Pierce said.
Meanwhile, passengers traveling to and from the Vineyard have faced delays stemming from mechanical breakdowns and increased security screening.
Yesterday morning, the SSA ferry Martha's Vineyard delayed its scheduled 7 a.m. departure from Woods Hole for about an hour to allow a technician to repair the vessel's emergency generator.
Authority general manager Wayne Lamson said a weekly test conducted by the vessel's crew yesterday morning in Vineyard Haven revealed the generator wasn't working. The piece of equipment, kind of a back-up battery, would provide electricity to start the vessel's engines if the main generator wasn't working.
The vessel made its scheduled trip anyway to Woods Hole, where it met the technician and was repaired.
The ferry's delayed departure proceeded to delay the ferry Islander, which had to wait to get into the slip at Woods Hole.
Mr. Lamson said the operating glitch was slowing passenger ferry departures by about 30 minutes yesterday morning.
Yesterday's equipment failure mirrored an identical failure of the Islander's emergency generator last Tuesday morning. That failure also delayed the ferry's departure from Woods Hole until the generator could be repaired.
Asked yesterday if the two breakdowns were linked, Mr. Lamson said the timing was coincidental.
Passengers traveling on SSA and Hy-Line ferries also are finding that getting onto the boats is taking longer. Both the SSA and the private ferry company are subjecting passengers and their luggage to an increased level of screening, as stipulated by Coast Guard rules.
Following the London terrorist bombings on July 7, the Coast Guard raised the Marine Security level from level one, or elevated, to level two, or high. Level three, or severe, is the highest security level.
Passengers getting onto the Islander about 8:15 yesterday morning in Woods Hole walked past a bomb-sniffing dog. Passengers waiting to board the ferry on its arrival in Vineyard Haven had their identification checked by SSA employees.
At the Hy-Line, Phil Scudder, vice president of marketing for the Hyannis-based company, said the Hy-Line had increased its screening of passengers and luggage following Sunday's telephoned threat.
"Thirty-four years, and it's our first bomb threat," said Mr. Scudder, referring to the company's launch of Island ferry service in 1971.
Hy-Line has been having its own mechanical troubles with its Vineyard fast ferry, the Lady Martha, which did not operate for most of last week, and had operated sporadically since the vessel began service July 3. The vessel operates between Hyannis and Oak Bluffs.
Mr. Scudder said sleuthing by manufacturer representatives found a computer defect in the pilot house controls connected to the water jets that propel the vessel.
The Lady Martha returned to service Sunday and had been operating on schedule since, Mr. Scudder said yesterday.
The inconvenience and delays faced by passengers traveling to the Vineyard pale next to what travelers on the Hyannis-Nantucket route ran into on Sunday evening and yesterday morning.
The Coast Guard decision Sunday to close Nantucket harbor halted the travel plans of the 115 people preparing to leave that evening on the SSA fast ferry Flying Cloud and the roughly 50 passengers scheduled to leave the Island on the ferry Nantucket.
The Flying Cloud, which had been fully loaded prior to its scheduled 8:30 p.m. departure, unloaded its passengers and luggage. The move also stranded the passengers and vehicles scheduled to leave the Island on the ferry Nantucket.
The Eagle, carrying vehicles and 72 passengers, was en route from Hyannis when the port was closed. The vessel halted off Tuckernuck Island rather than entering Nantucket harbor. The vessel returned that evening to Hyannis, where it unloaded the passengers and vehicles.
The halt in service flipped the SSA vessels from their scheduled morning departure ports on the Hyannis-Nantucket route. They accordingly did not run their first scheduled departures yesterday morning, but then resumed their regular schedules.
Mr. Lamson said passengers and vehicles on the canceled trips were given priority standby status yesterday, putting them in line after passengers and vehicles with reservations had gone aboard the vessels.
On Sunday evening, Hy-Line had about 170 passengers planning to leave Nantucket on either the Great Point, a conventional passenger ferry, or on the Grey Lady, a fast ferry. The Point Gammon, a conventional ferry used on the route between Nantucket and the Vineyard, had tied up for the night.
Mr. Scudder said the Great Point was about to dock when the bomb threat came in. The vessel unloaded about 30 passengers and their luggage. Both had been screened in Hyannis.
Security officials then searched both the Great Point and the Point Gammon. No bombs were found.
The Nantucket harbor shutdown also pinned the Grey Lady, with a full load of about 200 passengers, to its dock in Hyannis. The vessel then canceled its 8:45 p.m. departure.
Following the opening of Nantucket harbor about 1:15 a.m., the Great Point returned to Hyannis to resume its normal schedule yesterday. The Grey Lady resumed its regular schedule with its first trip yesterday, a 6:30 a.m. departure from Hyannis.