Katama loses steering while underway


Passenger Liz Dengenis of Chilmark took this photograph as the freight boat Katama headed back to Vineyard Haven after being stopped in Vineyard Sound for two hours. – Liz Dengenis

Updated 10:31 pm, Monday

The Steamship Authority ferry Katama lost steering en route to Woods Hole Monday night. The partially crippled vessel waited in Vineyard Sound for one to two hours before two tugboats from the Vineyard, the Sirius and Thuban, took it to a slip at the Vineyard Haven Terminal. The situation was first reported to the U.S. Coast Guard at 6:24 pm, according to Petty Officer Nicole Groll. The Katama did not drop anchor, she noted.

Passengers and crew aboard the Katama totaled 67 people, according to the Coast Guard. Trucks and other vehicles totaled 29, according to the SSA. 

Tisbury Towing and Transportation dispatched the tugboats Sirius and Thuban to rescue the Katama. The Sirius towed the Katama while the Thuban was at the stern, according to Randy Jardin, Captain of the Sirius. 

The Katama left Vineyard Haven on a 5:20 scheduled crossing, according to a statement from SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll sent at 7:31 pm. 

“During that crossing, the M/V Katama lost some of its steering capabilities outside of Woods Hole passage,” Driscoll wrote. “The crew members [were] making regular announcements and [were] able to keep the vessel positioned in such a way so as to not affect the passage of other vessels in the area. There have been no injuries and those on board are in no danger.”

Tugboat crew accounts and ship positioning apps place the Katama off West Chop when it was taken under tow.

At around 6:20, the SSA made a loudspeaker announcement that the boat was experiencing technical difficulties, according to passenger Liz Dengenis, of Chilmark.

“All of the sudden we were rocking really heavily,” said Dengenis, who was on her way to visit family in Dennis. “I was grateful I didn’t get seasickness.”

Dengenis said passengers on the boat were “shockingly calm,” and the SSA staff was friendly and helpful. One official loudspeaker announcement was made, and other updates came from an SSA spokesperson who answered questions from passengers.

“It was spooky floating out at sea with no idea how far we were from shore,” Dengenis added. She commented that one passenger shared his phone charger with others on the boat.

Passengers got a full refund, according to Dengenis.

At about 8:20 pm the Katama maneuvered into the slip in Vineyard Haven stern-first, using a combination of its twin screws, its bow thrusters, and tugboat assistance. 

Passengers walked off the open freight deck, crossed to the adjacent slip, and boarded the MV Martha’s Vineyard. Trucks and other vehicles followed suit. 

The Martha’s Vineyard pulled out for Woods Hole just after 8:30 pm.

“Authority engineering and maintenance personnel are on board the Katama working to diagnose and repair the vessel overnight,” Driscoll wrote in a follow up statement sent at 10:08 pm. All passengers who wished to continue to Woods Hole boarded the M/V Martha’s Vineyard, including vehicles, and arrived in Woods Hole at approximately 9:15 p.m. The Authority provided complimentary food and beverage on their trip on board the M/V Martha’s Vineyard to those customers who were affected, and we thank them for their patience this evening.”

 Driscoll went on to state that the Katama lost partial steering at “6:06 p.m. just off the coast near Nobska Light, but still had full shipboard power, its propulsion, and use of its bow thrusters.”

Asked why it was collected closer to West Chop, Driscoll told The Times the captain may have repositioned the vessel to keep it out of the ferry lanes. He also said the reason it did not get towed to Woods Hole was because of “wind and tide conditions.”

In his statement, Driscoll noted, “The crew was able to safely maneuver the vessel to a safe location and keep its position without having to drop anchor. At no time were the customers or crew in danger.”

Don’t expect the Katama first thing in the morning.

 “The M/V Katama’s 5:30 a.m. trip off the island Tuesday morning has been canceled,” he wrote, “but the Authority has made arrangements for the M/V Gay Head to run on Tuesday in place of the M/V Katama starting with the 6:30 a.m. trip to Vineyard Haven. Customers should expect delays Tuesday morning due to the availability of only one slip in Vineyard Haven.”

The incident is considered a marine casualty and is under investigation by the Coast Guard, Groll noted. 

Current Steamship conditions may be viewed at http://www.steamshipauthority.com/traveling_today/status    

Passengers can also call 508.548.3788 or 508.693.0367

Updated with additional information about the incident. Brittany Bowker contributed reporting to this story.


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