Hard grounding of Mass. tour boat prompts evacuation of 174

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating what caused a tour boat on a whale-watching trip to run aground and begin taking on water in Boston Harbor, forcing the evacuation of the 168 passengers and six crewmembers.

The 87-foot Massachusetts, owned and operated by Massachusetts Bay Lines Inc., struck Devil’s Back Ledge near Deer Island shortly before 1000 on July 3. The Coast Guard received a distress call from the vessel at 1004 stating that it was hard aground just outside the President Roads channel leading into Boston.

Petty Officer 3rd Class James Rhodes, spokesman for the Coast Guard’s First District, said seas were about 1 foot with 10-knot winds when the incident occurred. Skies were clear and all aids to navigation in the channel were correctly positioned and working properly, the Coast Guard reported.

Massachusetts, which has an aluminum hull and a 7-foot draft, ran aground about an hour before low tide. Boston Harbor has an average tidal range of about 9 feet. The Coast Guard would not comment on the depth of the water at Devil’s Back Ledge at the time of the grounding.

The vessel, which left Rowes Wharf in Boston at 0930 for a four-hour outing, was resting bow-down when rescuers arrived. A 47-foot Coast Guard vessel from Station Point Allerton in Hull, Mass., responded, as did fishing boats and vessels from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and the state police. The Coast Guard dispatched a Falcon jet crew from Air Station Cape Cod.

The passengers were removed from the tour boat and taken to Pemberton Pier in Hull, the Coast Guard said. Two passengers were injured when the boat ran aground. One sustained a knee injury and the other a back injury. They were then taken to local hospitals.

Pumps were deployed aboard the vessel, which was refloated with the incoming tide and towed by two Acushnet Marine tugs to Fitzgerald Shipyard in Chelsea, Mass., arriving at 2300. Oil was removed from the vessel before it was taken from the water for repairs. The Falcon jet crew observed a slight sheen around Massachusetts while it was grounded, but no further pollution was reported.

According to the Coast Guard’s Maritime Information Exchange, the vessel’s keel “was found to be broken beginning at frame No. 3 in the forward void space and extending to the collision bulkhead.†Repairs were completed by July 14, according to the report. Officials at Massachusetts Bay Lines did not respond to calls for comment on the incident or the extent of the damage.

Drug and alcohol tests were conducted on the crewmembers. The Coast Guard said it would not release the results until its investigation is complete.

According to Coast Guard records, Massachusetts has been involved in two other casualty incidents in Boston Harbor in the past five years.

In July 2007, the vessel — also used by the MBTA as a commuter ferry between Boston and Hingham — collided with the 101-foot ferry Laura in early morning fog. Both vessels sustained damage above the water line, but did not take on any water. There were no injuries.

In June 2006, an engine room fire resulted in two minor injuries and $800,000 in damage. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable cause was the ignition of diesel fuel coming into contact with a hot engine surface, which occurred “because a fuel line attached to a fuel injector was not properly connected during engine maintenance by a contract mechanic.â€

Rich Miller

By Professional Mariner Staff