June 06, 2020

Damage claim against ferry service comes up dry

BASS HARBOR — A lobster fisherman’s damage claim against the Maine State Ferry Service is dead in the water, according to state officials.

David Fitts, head of the Risk Management Division of the Maine Department of Administration, said Wednesday that conflicting versions of an Aug. 19 collision between the ferry Capt. Henry Lee and the fishing vessel Cindy Lou have made it difficult to assign blame in the accident.

Robert Elder, director of Maine Department of Transportation’s Maine State Ferry Service, said it did not appear that the ferry’s captain, Allen Cole, was at fault in the incident.

Wills Dow, 64, of Bass Harbor was hauling traps in dense fog shortly before 7 a.m. between Swans Island and Bass Harbor when he claims to have been struck by the Capt. Henry Lee. Cole, described as a highly competent captain by Fitts, was filling in for the pilot normally assigned to the vessel’s daily crossings between Bass Harbor and Swans Island.

The impact of the collision caused less than $500 damage to the ferry, but the wooden-hulled, 46-year-old Cindy Lou will require about $5,000 worth of repairs. Dow said the collision caused major damage to the 32-foot vessel’s port bow and caved in the cabin area. The fisherman carried no insurance on his boat. No one aboard either vessel was injured in the crash.

Dow was able to power the damaged lobster boat into Bernard where it was inspected by DOT insurance adjustors. U.S. Coast Guard officials with the agency’s Department of Marine Safety in Portland have played an ancillary role in investigating the accident. Both Fitts and Elder are awaiting the Coast Guard’s report before concluding their findings.

The fisherman claims the ferry had identified his lobster boat on the vessel’s radar and passed the Cindy Lou on the left-hand side, rather than the right. The lobster boat was not equipped with a radar unit.

State officials maintain that the Cindy Lou actually collided with the ferry when the Capt. Henry Lee was either stopped or nearly stopped in the water. Cole has told DOT officials he had noticed an object on his radar screen when he was less than a half-mile from the Cindy Lou. He responded by sounding his fog horn and reducing his speed. A few moments later, he observed the lobster boat approaching the ferry in dense fog.

“I think we share the captain’s views,” Elder said. “I think he did all he could to avoid the accident and we would agree with the surveyor, but we haven’t seen the Coast Guard report so I’m a little reluctant to say anything further until we’ve seen it.”

Fitts said he planned to have an additional discussion with Cole and already had inspected the damage to Dow’s boat. No one, he said, is disputing the amount of damage in the accident but responsibility for the crash is another matter.

“I’ve got two conflicting statements and I don’t know what to do about it at this point,” he said. “It’s one of those kind of things where if you believe both parties then the accident never happened.”

The insurance adjuster hopes that the Coast Guard report will provide additional information to resolve the matter. Dow’s claim that the ferry drifted into his boat after stopping its engines remains unsubstantiated, according to Fitts.

“That’s where it gets hard to say, was he drifting or not,” said Fitts. “The captain said he was stopped or darn near stopped. I have no choice but to go with our state employee or until I have evidence to the contrary.”

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