The Coast Guard is investigating why a whale watch boat veered from a well-marked channel outside Boston Harbor Saturday and ran aground on a rocky shoal off Deer Island, forcing an emergency evacuation of 168 tourists on board.
The shallow area where the wreck occurred is a known hazard and is well-marked on navigational maps, several Coast Guard officials said on Sunday. All of the buoys and markers in the channel were properly positioned and working, a statement from the Coast Guard noted.
The crew of the M/V Massachusetts, an 87-foot vessel owned by Massachusetts Bay Lines and often used for commuter-boat service from Hingham, was tested for drugs and alcohol as part of the investigation into the grounding, the Coast Guard said. Results of those tests will not be released until the investigation has concluded.
William Spence, president of Massachusetts Bay Lines Inc. said in a statement that the captain immediately radioed a distress call when the ship crashed and took on water about a mile-and-a-half from shore, at about 10 a.m. Saturday. The company offered no further comment.
Passengers had boarded the boat a half-hour earlier at Rowes Wharf in Boston and was headed out to Stellwagen Bank when it crashed into the rocky area known as Devil’s Bank Ledge. The boat had traveled about 100 feet outside the nearest buoy marking the borders of the South Channel, which runs through the outer harbor.
Two Coast Guard officers reached Sunday said they had never before witnessed an accident in that location, one that most experienced boaters steer clear of.
“Somebody who is responsible for a boat with that many people on board really should be aware,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Cella. “The channels are maybe a little confusing out there, but they’re well marked off to the experienced eye.”
According to published reports, several passengers said the boat veered out of the channel when a barge approached.
Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Adriano Agostinio said when he arrived on the scene the Massachusetts was grounded and listing to the port side. The boat was down on the bow and the main deck was taking on water. He said it took about a half hour to evacuate passengers, all of whom were given life jackets.
“The passengers were fairly calm. I didn’t see any panic,” he said.
The Coast Guard coordinated the response with the help of State Police, local harbormasters, the state Environmental Police and several civilian boats. Agostinio said the last time he participated in such a large-scale rescue was when MassPort held an evacuation exercise concerning the staged-sinking of an airplane in Boston Harbor.
The tourists on the Massachusetts, who had come from across the country to experience Boston’s Fourth of July festivities, were brought to Point Allerton in Hull, about three miles away. From there, they boarded buses and The Freedom, another Mass Bay Line boat, to head back to Boston.
Mass Bay Lines is a subcontractor to Boston Harbor Cruises, which is the MBTA’s Hingham ferry service provider. There will be no impact on commuter boat service this week because the company has another vessel to ensure all scheduled trips are covered, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said.
The Massachusetts is now moored in a Chelsea shipyard awaiting repairs, after being towed from the scene on Saturday.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.