Towed car ferry breaks loose and runs aground in Nova Scotia

A car ferry on its way to a shipyard for a refit broke loose from its towing vessel and ran aground along the rocky Nova Scotia coast.

The 120-foot William Pitt was extensively damaged in the Dec. 18 incident and remained beached for six weeks. Although the ferry’s hull was extensively holed, its operator announced plans to salvage the vessel and repair it.

The 208-gross-ton vessel, which can transport up to18 cars, is owned by the New Brunswick Department of Transportation. The cable ferry most recently served Belleisle Bay after spending 21 years as the Gondola Point Ferry. Both routes are in southern New Brunswick, near the provincial capital, Saint John.

When the accident happened, the 22-year-old ferry was on its way from Saint John to Meteghan River, Nova Scotia, for an overhaul at A.F. Theriault & Son Ltd. In the Bay of Fundy, 20- to 25-knot winds greeted the voyage, and the tow became troublesome, the Coast Guard reported.

The ferry was beached just 20 miles from its destination, said Andrew Holland, with the New Brunswick Department of Transportation.

“Two hours into the voyage, they encountered some strong winds, and they either cut the rope or the rope snapped," Holland said. “The William Pitt went adrift. It was being monitored while it drifted away, and it ran aground."

John Cottreau, a spokesman with the Transportation Safety Board, said the towing vessel was Dominion Victory. The single-screw multipurpose support vessel, built in 1965, is 83 feet long. It is owned by Dominion Diving Ltd. of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

One member of the Dominion Victory crew boarded William Pitt to try to connect a new line, but the vessel was never able to bring the ferry under control. The crewman had to be rescued by a Coast Guard boat.

The ferry eventually became lodged against rocks, Holland said. The area, near Tiverton, is very secluded and can’t be reached by car. Salvage inspectors had to hike 90 minutes on land to find the vessel, Holland said.

“The damage is considerable," Holland said in late January. “There are a number of holes to the hull of the boat on the bottom, in addition to internal damage. The damage has been more extensive because of the time it has been beached, with the waves hitting it against the rocks. Where it’s cornered, there are rocks behind it."

Shawn MacPhail, operations manager for Dominion Diving, said the company wouldn’t comment on the incident.

The original refit plan for the steel Carvel/Flush vessel called for $930,000 (about $750,000 U.S.) in improvements, including a new environmentally friendly engine, deck repairs, electrical and piping work, sandblasting and a paint job. The New Brunswick government is tallying the cost of accident-related hull fixes at dry dock. Holland said William Pitt is only halfway through its expected service life.

William Pitt was finally removed from the rocks by an A.F. Theriault tug Jan. 28. In mid-February, Holland said his agency was awaiting a marine engineering consultant’s reports before determining the repair work that would be needed.

The ferry is named after the Canadian engineer who designed the Gondola Point underwater cable ferry.

Other engineers couldn’t figure out how to lay the heavy cable across the Kennebecasis River by boat. Pitt came up with the idea of placing the cable atop the ice in the winter, allowing it to drop into place during the spring thaw. Pitt, who introduced the ferry in 1903, died in1909 from injuries sustained when he fell into the ferry’s machinery. The current Gondola Point Ferry, William Pitt II, also is named in his honor.

By Professional Mariner Staff