Ferry official cites buoy misinterpretation, high seas in Hyannis grounding

The following is the text of a news release from the Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority:

(WOODS HOLE, Mass.) — At the regular monthly meeting of the Steamship Authority Board on June 27, held at the Nantucket Whaling Museum, Steamship Authority General Manager Wayne Lamson gave a report to the board regarding the accident involving the high-speed ferry M/V Iyanough, as well as an update on the scheduling of repairs and the status of high-speed ferry passenger service between Hyannis and Nantucket in the interim.

A transcript of his statement is attached below:

As everyone knows by now, at 9:35 in the evening of Friday, June 16, Iyanough had an allision with the Hyannis Harbor breakwater. The vessel was traveling from Nantucket to Hyannis on its last trip of the day. There were 48 passengers, six crewmembers, and three food service workers on board the vessel at the time of the incident.

On behalf of the Steamship Authority, I again want to thank the Coast Guard, all of the local first responders, the crew of the helicopter from Air Station Cape Cod, and Iyanough’s crew and passengers who made the ferry’s evacuation safe and orderly under adverse conditions. Our concerns are first and foremost for the safety and well-being of our passengers and crew, and we deeply appreciate the efforts of all who guided them safely to shore.

The Coast Guard hoisted five injured passengers off of the ferry, as well as 10 other people who could not walk over the breakwater. The remaining passengers and crew were taken off the ferry to shore by boat. Acting Hyannis Fire Chief Dean Melanson has indicated that 15 people were brought to Cape Cod Hospital for various injuries, none of which were said to be life-threatening. All of the injured passengers and crewmembers were treated and released from the hospital.

Despite the impact of the allision, Iyanough’s fuel tanks remained intact and there was no environmental damage as a result of the incident. The following morning, we were able to free the vessel from the breakwater and take it to the Hyannis terminal. Later that day, the vessel left under its own power to Fairhaven Shipyard so that it could be inspected to determine what repairs are needed before it can be placed back into service. 

The Coast Guard is conducting an investigation of the incident, which includes interviews with the crew to determine its exact cause. We are also investigating the accident and, although our investigation is continuing, our preliminary findings include the following:

Iyanough departed from Nantucket at 8:45 that evening bound for Hyannis. The winds were reported to be strong from the SSE at approximately 30-35 knots and visibility was diminished by intermittent rain and fog. The crossing itself was uneventful.

As the vessel approached the “HH” navigation buoy – which is located about 2,500 yards south of from the entrance to the main channel for Hyannis Harbor – security calls were made and the buoy was logged. At that point, the next navigation buoy the vessel would pass by on its way into the channel would be buoy No. 4, which is located a few hundred yards south of the channel entrance, and after passing by buoy No. 4, the vessel would turn starboard to go between buoys 5 and 6, which mark the 240-foot-wide entrance into the channel, at its usual operating speed of more than 32 knots.

After logging the HH buoy, the captain asked the pilot to use the vessel’s searchlight and light up buoy No. 4 for him. The captain then reached across the console and engaged the searchlight for the pilot.

When the captain returned to the radar, he recognized the familiar pattern of buoys 4, 5 and 6 and began adjusting the vessel’s course to accommodate its entrance into the main Hyannis channel. The pilot was unable to locate any navigational aids with the searchlight.

But what the captain had interpreted on the radar as buoy No. 4 was in fact the metal pole at the end of the breakwater, which is about 800 yards north of buoy No. 4 and also north of the channel entrance. At that time, the breakwater itself was not visible on radar because the waves, which were estimated to be 8 feet high at the time, obscured the breakwater’s radar image, while the pole was visible because of its greater height above the waves. In addition, what the captain had interpreted as buoys 5 and 6 were actually sailboats located on the other side of the jetty. The distances and positions of the pole and the sailboats matched identically to the pattern normally associated with buoys 4, 5 and 6.

Therefore, the captain did not detect anything unusual about the vessel’s approach into Hyannis channel until, after adjusting the vessel’s course to begin its entrance into the channel, he saw the breakwater in front of the vessel and administered the “panic stop” as trained.

As far as we have been able to determine, all of the vessel’s navigation and mechanical systems were properly functioning that evening. In addition, the captain and the pilot tested negative for alcohol and drugs. 

Because our investigation is still continuing, I do not feel that it would be appropriate for me to speculate at this time about the cause of this incident. Suffice it to say that we are looking at all potentially contributing factors to this accident, including the actions and operational judgment of the vessel’s captain and pilot. Both of them are well-respected and well-qualified officers with decades of experience; but they remain on administrative leave while we continue to investigate why, given their experience and abilities, they mistook the structure at the end of the Hyannis Harbor breakwater and two moored sailboats for buoys 4, 5 and 6.

Iyanough is expected to be out of service for three to four weeks for repairs and sea trials before being cleared by the Coast Guard to return to line service. We are looking at somewhere around July 21 as a likely return date based on where we are currently with the ongoing hull repairs.

By Professional Mariner Staff