The Steamship Authority has cut back its Vineyard freight ferry routes after two employees tested positive for Covid-19 on Friday.
In a press release that went out Friday night, SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll confirmed that an employee assigned to the M/V Martha’s Vineyard had tested positive for the virus on Friday. Although the employee last worked on a shift that began at noon Sunday, Jan. 12 and ended 11:30 a.m. Monday, Jan. 11, the positive test prompted the boatline to cancel the freight boat M/V Katama’s 6:30 p.m. trip out of Woods Hole.
At the time, the SSA announced that the trip had been cancelled for “unforeseen circumstances.” A press release from boatline spokesman Sean Driscoll later confirmed that the trip was cancelled due to a positive Covid-19 test among crew.
The positive crew member was in close contact with individuals who had tested positive for the virus, according to Mr. Driscoll’s statement.
A second crew member assigned to the Nantucket route also tested positive later on Friday, Mr. Driscoll confirmed in an updated press release.
The two positive tests have prompted the ferry line to alter its freight schedule “to better manage its staffing capabilities,” the statement said.
Vessel employees determined to be in close contact with the crewmembers who tested positive will not be allowed to return to work until they receive a negative test. Due to the staffing shortages, the SSA has cut freight routes on both its Vineyard and Nantucket routes.
Starting Saturday, the M/V Katama will cut its 5:30 a.m. freight run from Woods Hole and reduce its schedule from five round trips per day to four on the Vineyard route. Nantucket routes will also see freight schedule reductions.
Mr. Driscoll’s statement said that the Steamship Authority planned to cut back its freight schedule due to low demand on Tuesday, but moved the changes up due to the positive tests from Friday.
“The Authority had planned to reduce the operating schedule of the M/V Katama starting Tuesday, January 19, 2021, due to low demand for those trips, but moved up the schedule change in response to Friday’s developments,” Mr. Driscoll worte. “The Authority’s reservation personnel have rebooked the vehicles on the affected trips, which were largely used by freight shippers, to other trips to accommodate the schedule changes. These schedule alterations will continue until further notice.”
The positive tests and subsequent cancelled trips come days after SSA general manager Bob Davis sent a letter to the state requesting information regarding the Covid-19 vaccine for its 500-person crew. The letter cites urgent staffing and scheduling concerns caused by an increase in positive Covid-19 tests.
Mr. Driscoll said that the boatline had not heard back from the state regarding the request on Friday. The Dukes County Commission also sent a letter supporting the request for information.
As front-line employees in the transportation sector, Steamship Authority crew members are in line to receive the vaccine as part of the state’s second phase of the vaccine rollout. But phase two runs from February through April, making the exact date and logistics of their vaccinations unclear.
Meanwhile, Mr. Davis said in the statement Friday that the SSA would continue to encourage social distancing protocols among staff and aggressively clean vessels.
“While we understand that the reduction in freight service will have an effect on our customers, this slight reduction in service will help us better manage our available personnel to ensure the maximum amount of service possible to each island,” Mr. Davis said. “I thank our customers for their understanding during this time.”