BAR HARBOR, Maine — Municipal officials have decided to place navigation buoys where the Coast Guard will not.
The Town Council voted 7-0 Tuesday night to use $5,646 in revenue from cruise ship anchorage fees to buy and install two navigation buoys between Bar and Sheep Porcupine islands, which help shelter the local harbor from Frenchman Bay. A natural channel between the two islands is used in the summer and fall by cruise ship tenders that ferry passengers between the waterfront and large cruise ships anchored on the north side of Bar Island.
Charlie Phippen, the town’s harbor master, said Wednesday that local officials hope the buoys will help prevent any repeat of an incident last fall in which a passenger tender from the cruise ship Summit ran aground in the relatively shallow passage. The tender, piloted by cruise ship employees who had language barriers with their passengers, was operating in dark and rainy conditions around 7:45 p.m. Oct. 4 when it struck rocks protruding from the water at low tide and got stuck.
The collision breached the tender’s hull and, according to some passenger accounts, resulted in minor injuries for some of the 93 people on board. The people were evacuated onto another boat and then taken back to the Summit while officials waited for the rising tide to free the tender from the rocks.
The tender then was taken back to the cruise ship and hoisted back into storage on the larger ship, which took the tender out of circulation, Coast Guard officials said at the time.
In February 2012, Phippen sent a request to the Coast Guard, asking the agency to consider placing two navigational buoys in the waterway between the two islands. The Coast Guard declined his request, however, saying that vessels should use the federal channel east of Sheep Porcupine to get from the local harbor to the north side of Bar Island, even though the federal channel is more exposed and has been known to have heavier seas in windy conditions.
Phippen said Wednesday that he thinks the area that will be marked off by the buoys will provide ample room for navigation by tenders between the two islands. He said that, beyond the initial purchase and installation costs, he expects the buoys to cost only a couple of hundred dollars each year to maintain.
Phippen said there is a risk of liability to the town in assuming responsibility for the navigational markers, but he said the risk is relatively low as long as the town adequately maintains them and that the risk is outweighed by the potential benefit of helping to keep tenders from running aground.
Phippen said he hopes to have the buoys in place by May 1. The town’s cruise ship season, which is scheduled to include 134 cruise ship visits, is set to get under way on May 5 and run through Oct. 30.