The Steamship Authority’s governing board never saw the results of an internal investigation into the M/V Sankaty incident of July 27 until they were released to the press this week, board member James Malkin told the Gazette.

“The only [prior] explanation seemed to be that a line slipped off...and a memo had been sent instructing people how to properly secure lines,” Mr. Malkin said Friday.

The internal documents tell a more detailed and decidedly more unflattering tale, in which the Nantucket’s captain and crew were aware the vessel was insecurely moored for more than an hour before it finally broke free.

“At 3:47 p.m. Captain [name withheld] came down to the dock to tell me that the Sankaty was going to break loose,” reads a statement from a shoreside worker whose name also was withheld from the public release.

“I immediately said, ‘I’ll get my guys and we will go over and fix it with your crew and put more lines out.’ He replied, ‘Phone call was made they will handle it,’” the worker wrote.

At 4:59 p.m., the Sankaty’s bow lines broke loose and its shoreside power cable gave way as the ferry drifted from its berth to a nearby dock owned by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

This was at least the second time in less than a week that the Sankaty was seen to be improperly secured, according to the internal investigation.

A statement from a Steamship Authority officer, whose name and rank were withheld from the public release, indicates the writer observed the Sankaty crew were not following docking procedure on July 24.

“I boarded the M/V Sankaty and had a conversation with Captain [name withheld] and Pilot [name withheld] about the SOP [standard operating procedure] for securing a vessel. I also stressed the importance of properly securing the vessel at the end of each day,” wrote the unnamed officer, adding that he also followed up by email.

The internal documents were made public after the Martha’s Vineyard Times filed a request under the Massachusetts Public Records Law, followed by a successful appeal to a state records attorney when the Steamship Authority was initially reluctant to provide crew members’ written statements.

The new information came as an unwelcome surprise for Mr. Malkin, who is appointed by the Dukes County Commission to represent Islanders on the authority board.

“There’s only one piece of good news in this. The piece of good news is that nobody was killed,” he said.

“The three days’ awareness of the vessel not being properly secured, which was not told to the board or the port council, speaks to a serious operational failure,” Mr. Malkin said. “All of [this] points to a serious fall-down in the senior management of the Steamship Authority.”

Under state law, Steamship Authority board members are responsible for supervising the management, operation and direction of all boat line activities, he said.

Mr. Malkin said he intended to bring the issue up when the Steamship Authority board next meets. The meeting is scheduled for Nov. 21 at 10 a.m. at its Palmer avenue headquarters in Falmouth, with online participation available.

In a statement to the Gazette on Monday, SSA general manager Robert Davis wrote: "The Steamship Authority’s decision to initially withhold employee statements regarding the July 27, 2023, incident was made to support and nurture the culture of openness that underpins our Safety Quality Management System, or SQMS. The success of the SQMS depends on the ability of employees to confidentially report hazards, issues, concerns, occurrences, and incidents, as well as to propose solutions and safety improvements. It was our concern that releasing these statements would undermine the Safety Quality Management System that the entire company has worked diligently to create and follow. Furthermore, the Authority was and remains unable to comment on any disciplinary sanctions that may have been issued against Authority employee(s) referred to in the statements.

“At no time did the Authority seek to mislead any member of the public or Authority governance about the cause of the incident, and the Authority has already released numerous security videos and investigatory documents to various media outlets upon request. We are thankful and extremely fortunate that there was no loss of life, injury, serious damage, or environmental damage as a result of this incident. As a result of this root cause analysis, we have updated the SQMS to reflect the Authority’s revised training procedures on line handling.”