Maine Maritime's "Fast Cruise" Disrupted by Noise Complaints

State of Maine transits to Searsport, Maine, July 10 (MMA)

Published Jul 12, 2020 11:37 PM by The Maritime Executive

Maine Maritime Academy has come up with a workable option to provide its 2020 graduating class with enough sea time: a "fast cruise" at the pier. However, MMA's training ship had to depart after all - not because of the coronavirus, but because the noise of the ship's auxiliary engines proved to be too much for the neighbors. 

The "fast cruise" - short for "held fast" rather than "going fast" -  is not a new concept. The crew boards the vessel and conducts their routine as though they were at sea (to the furthest extent possible). The U.S. Coast Guard agreed that a fast cruise on the State of Maine - complete with running engines - would fit the bill for MMA cadets who need sea days and signoffs for their licenses. 

The pier-side cruise in Castine, Maine was designed with COVID prevention in mind, with no one boarding or leaving for the full six-week period in order to maintain cordon sanitaire status. With help from nonprofit biomedical research institute The Jackson Laboratory, MMA planned to test every student, teacher and crewmember twice before boarding. As a backup plan, shoreside care would be immediately accessible in the unlikely event of a COVID-19 case on board.

The cruise officially began on July 8, but the noise complaints started far sooner. Maine Maritime Academy's wharf is in the center of the town waterfront, and residents said that the 24/7 sound of the ship's generators was excessive. "It is very, very disruptive, to the point where you can’t sleep at night,” resident Daniel Leader told Bangor Daily News.

In a letter, academy president Dr. William J. Brennan said that monitoring showed the ship's noise levels to be broadly compliant, with limited exceptions. He warned that if the academy could not guarantee a full education to its students, its future could be threatened, "and along with it the vitality of a significant source of employment and revenue for this area."

On July 6, the selectboard of the town of Castine ordered Maine Maritime to comply with the town's noise ordinance or face a fine of $100 per day. The State of Maine achieved compliance by departing the pier and relocating to a petroleum terminal in Searsport, just on the other side of Penobscot Bay. 

"The distraction of complaints from a few Castine residents is out of proportion and embarrassing for a town that is largely supportive of the college and our mission. The way in which the Academy, my students and crew have been treated in this matter, is not something I will soon forget," said Brennan in a statement Friday. "I have never been opposed to moving the vessel, but until I was absolutely sure that our testing, quarantine, and isolation measures kept the virus off the ship, I was unwavering in my view that the ship needed to be alongside our pier in case of a medical emergency."