ROCKLAND — John Anders had barely organized his desk after taking over in mid-June as chief of the Maine State Ferry Service when an explosive problem landed on it—transporting gasoline in large quantities.
It began with a routine U.S. Coast Guard inspection of the Capt. Henry Lee, the state ferry that runs from Bass Harbor to Swan’s Island and Frenchboro.
“It was brought to our attention that the crews needed to be in compliance with hazardous materials regulations,” Anders said. Specifically, they needed to be trained to respond to mishaps with fuels like gasoline, diesel, LP gas and oil.
Previously, ferry managers had assumed that only the drivers of the trucks hauling bulk gasoline and other volatile fuels had to be trained.
As the ferry service arranged for training for the Bass Harbor crew, the captain of the ferry that travels between Lincolnville and Islesboro “decided it was in his best interest to not complete those runs with gasoline on board,” Anders said.
That response, while causing some problems for Islesboro residents who were unable to get gasoline on the island when supplies dwindled at gas stations and boat yards, was sensible, he said.
“I knew I was going to start getting phone calls,” Anders said. “It was a tough decision but it was one I had to support. Out on the water, the captain’s in charge of the passengers and the crew and the vessel.”
The ferry service responded by getting the 40-plus ferry crew members on the Bass Harbor, Lincolnville and Rockland runs trained.
“We made great strides to get that accomplished,” he said.
Typically, it is only the Bass Harbor and Lincolnville ferries that carry bulk fuel trucks. Trucks carrying the fuel to Vinalhaven and North Haven from Rockland often use the private Island Transporter vessel, Anders said.
From Lincolnville, a bulk fuel truck takes a special, earlier trip to Islesboro, and typically it is the only vessel on the boat. A bulk propane truck must pay for five spaces to allow for a buffer around it on a regular run of the ferry, he said.
In addition to the worst-case scenario of the fuel igniting, Anders said the training addressed crew responses to spills. If a truck began leaking fuel onboard a ferry, crew members now know what steps to take to ensure passenger safety by preventing exposure to it. They also know what to do to keep the fuel from ending up in the water.
Transporting small amounts of fuel, such as 20-pound propane tank for a barbecue, will continue without any change in regulations, Anders said.