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    Contractor defends repair work on troubled Steamship authority ferries

    Christine Hochkeppel for the Boston Globe

    A Rhode Island-based contractor blamed by the Steamship Authority for many of the mechanical failures that have caused breakdowns on ferries to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket pushed back Wednesday against the authority’s allegations.

    In a strongly worded statement, Senesco Marine LLC defended its performance and said it “proudly stands behind the repair work it performed for its valued customer [the authority] on M/V Martha’s Vineyard at its dry-docking facility.”

    “While reported that the vessel left Senesco’s shipyard with numerous deficiencies, in fact, at the completion of the shipyard period what remained to be completed were ‘punch-list items,’ many to be performed by the Steamship Authority, and most extremely minor in nature,” the Senesco statement said. “These punch-list items were quickly completed to the satisfaction of the Steamship Authority, and the United States Coast Guard, which permitted the vessel to promptly return to service.”

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    The statement from the contractor came about two weeks after the Steamship Authority said it would demand money from Senesco for shoddy work. The explosive accusation set up a feud with Senesco — one of just two companies the authority regularly relies on for major boat projects — at the moment the high season kicked off.

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    Three of the agency’s boats were sent to Senesco for long-scheduled upgrades in recent months, including an $18 million “mid-life” overhaul to a ship named the Martha’s Vineyard. All three subsequently came back with a laundry list of problems, Steamship Authority general manager Robert B. Davis said last month.

    Internal documents, obtained by the Globe through a public records request to the quasipublic agency, show the Martha’s Vineyard suffered more than 250 issues, including a pervasive stench of sewage and mechanical problems that Steamship staff attributed to “poor workmanship” and “improperly installed” parts.

    The onslaught of breakdowns began shortly after the problems were discovered. Sometimes multiple failures sprang up in a single week, resulting in more than 550 cancellations so far this year for an agency that ferries 3 million passengers annually to and from the islands.

    “The only common denominator would be where the vessel was serviced,” Steamship Authority governing board vice chair Robert R. Jones said. “It’s just poor workmanship. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

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    Not so, according to Wednesday’s statement from Senesco.

    “During the shipyard period, Senesco was required to engage numerous vendors hand-selected by the Steamship Authority to perform work on key components and systems,” the company said. “The issues encountered by the Steamship Authority following the return of M/V Martha’s Vineyard into service appear largely directly related to work performed by these ‘sole source’ vendors.”

    As an example, Senesco cited “the generator aboard the vessel which experienced a mechanical failure was supplied and commissioned by a Steamship Authority-selected vendor. Similarly, the repair work required to the vessel’s bow doors resulted from work was performed by a different sole source vendor.

    “While the vessel was taken out of service in between these occurrences on two occasions, it was due to Steamship Authority sole source vendor related issues. Also, some of the reported problems appear to relate to systems that were not within the scope of the overhaul work performed at Senesco’s facility.”

    Senesco said in its statement that the company “has made itself available to the Steamship Authority for any assistance that it may require, and eagerly awaits the opportunity to meet with the Steamship Authority to address any on-going concerns. Senesco has reached out to the Steamship Authority in an effort to schedule such a meeting, which the company hopes can be arranged in the near future.

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    On Wednesday, Davis, the Steamship Authority general manager, responded to Senesco’s salvo in a written statement.

    “We share Senesco’s eagerness to set up a meeting to resolve these issues, and similarly hope that it can be arranged in the near future,” Davis said. “The bottom line is that whether the work in question was performed by Senesco or one of the other vendors or subcontractors on this project, the contractual relationships of all of those vendors and subcontractors have been with Senesco, not the Steamship Authority, and Senesco is therefore responsible for their work as well as its own.

    “That being said, we have worked successfully with Senesco and many of those vendors for years and we are hoping we can resolve these concerns and move forward.”

    Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.