The freight ferry Governor’s term may be over. At the monthly Steamship Authority meeting this week, the fate of the humble vessel, which dates to the 1950s, was a subject for discussion. Boat line general manager Wayne Lamson announced the launch of a study — scheduled to be completed in March — about options for replacing the Governor.

Last spring the Governor’s engines were replaced after losing power on a trip between Vineyard Haven and Woods Hole. That ill-fated cruise required a tug to safety, and the aging boat has spent much of the last year out of service. At the meeting in Woods Hole Tuesday morning, Mr. Lamson said the ferry could be sold in one piece, or failing a buyer, scrapped while its engines are installed in the freight ferry Katama.

As a replacement, Mr. Lamson said the Steamship Authority could purchase a used freight boat, build a new one, or even purchase a new passenger vessel like the Island Home, while converting the ferry Nantucket to a freight vessel by removing its two passenger decks.

Built in Oakland, Calif., the Governor began service in 1954 between San Diego and Coronado, where it was known as the Crown City. In 1969 the ferry was rechristened the Kulshan and began shuttling between Mukilteo and Whidbey Island in Washington State. There, according to the Pacific Northwest ferry enthusiast Web site, the open-air vessel held “the unique distinction of being the most loathed ferry to ever sail Puget Sound waters,” both for its appearance and the propensity of water to breach the bulwark, soaking passengers and cars. After a stint in New York city shuttling between Manhattan and Governors Island, the ferry was sold to the Steamship Authority by the Coast Guard for $1 in 1997.

Falmouth SSA governor Robert Marshall said with the retirement of the Governor, the ferry line should look into dedicating a freight route between Martha’s Vineyard and the port of New Bedford. “Given the constraints the port of Hyannis places on the authority and the one-road access through the streets of Falmouth, we should make a concerted effort, as long as we’re talking about putting a new vessel in place, to try and accommodate some freight, commodities, trash and fuel out of the port of New Bedford,” he said. “If we can do that and incorporate some foot traffic on a boat, then so be it.”

It is not a new idea. Freight service between the two Islands was at the center of a heated political battle 10 years ago when powerful politicians from the city of New Bedford pressed a plan to reopen ferry service between the Whaling City and the two Islands. The end result was an expanded board of governors with voting members from Barnstable and New Bedford, and today’s privately-operated, high-speed passenger service to the Vineyard, which has seen a steady series of cutbacks in service due to poor ridership.

New Bedford SSA governor and board chairman John Tierney applauded the idea of expanded New Bedford service, and was joined by recently-appointed New Bedford Harbor Development Commission director Ed Anthes-Washburn, who introduced himself at the meeting. But Nantucket governor H. Flint Ranney had a different view.

“I would support it if it could be proven to pay for itself but I would remind everybody that the purpose of the Steamship Authority is to serve the two Islands,” Mr. Ranney said. “While we have to cooperate with Falmouth and New Bedford and Hyannis, the main purpose of our work is to serve the Islands,” he added.

“Thank you for reminding me of that,” replied Mr. Marshall. “I know that’s our responsibility,”

The boat line board also voted to replace two aging diesel shuttle buses on the mainland with buses that run on compressed natural gas. The combined price tag for both cleaner-running buses will be $42,000 higher than their diesel counterparts.

“You’re operating in a neighborhood,” said Barnstable governor Robert O’Brien. “We should be getting away from diesel.”

Preliminary numbers for December 2011 showed that passenger traffic on the Vineyard run was up 7.1 per cent from December 2010, or 7,600 passengers. Car traffic for the month was up 5.2 per cent from the previous December, or 1,200 cars. Truck traffic on the Vineyard run was down 5.9 per cent, or 526 trucks.

For 2011, boat line traffic was down 24,100 passengers and 2,200 trucks on both Island runs. But while operating revenues were down, so were operating expenses due to lower-than expected health insurance and maintenance costs. SSA treasurer Robert Davis estimated that the boat line will end the year about $4 million in the black.