A shortage of deck officers at the Steamship Authority will likely mean a reduction in service for the early summer schedule of the boat line’s Nantucket fast ferry, the M/V Iyanough, as well as on the Martha’s Vineyard route.
Steamship general manager Bob Davis disclosed the situation to the boat line’s board of governors this week, stating that the Authority suddenly found itself short four deck officers who serve a critical role aboard every ferry trip. Deck officers are licensed by the Coast Guard and are responsible for navigation and safety on the Steamship’s vessels. But the Authority recently discovered that two of its deck officers are going out on leave due to medical conditions, while another just retired, and a fourth officer is out on family leave.
When the Iyanough’s schedule is set to expand next month, the Steamship has opted to cancel the last trip of the day to and from Nantucket - meaning the 7:30 p.m. departure from Hyannis and the 8:45 p.m. return trip from the island won’t be running.
On the Vineyard route, several trips of the M/V Governor are expected to be impacted by the shortage.
Davis said there is also a backlog in the licensing of new deck officers that is leading to a delay in replacing the four who are sidelined.
“The individuals are disheartened they put us in this position but we told them their health is more important,” Davis said. “We’re looking at what we can do.”
Rob Ranney, who serves as Nantucket’s representative on the Steamship’s board of governors and as its chairman, said the impacts will likely be more acute on Vineyard route. It was unclear, he said, how long the M/V Iyanough service would be impacted with the last trip of the day canceled starting in May.
“We’re not exactly sure how long,” Ranney said. “Some guys are out on medical leave, and some guys retired. There’s new people coming through to replace them, but there’s a backlog for issuing licenses through the Coast Guard and other regulatory bodies. Up until recently, it was a week to 10 days. Now they’re saying 60 to 90 days. So it’s a combination of things, and it all kind of happened all at once in the last week or so.”
The licensing issue is impacting a group of 10 Steamship employees who recently took an eight-week training program to prepare for the Coast Guard certification program for deck officers.
Ranney added that the Steamship wasn’t the only maritime operation facing this issue.
“This is an industry-wide problem,” Ranney said. “Like when the airlines say they’re running short on pilots - licensed officers are tough to replace and there’s few people coming up through the ranks. It’s something the Steamship is jumping on but it's going to take time to resolve.”