Many St. John motorists heading for St. Thomas Thursday morning arrived in Cruz Bay to find their customary means of making the commute missing.
The barge Tug Life, operated by Global Marine Inc. of St. Thomas, was reported stolen by the company president, Capt. Stanley Hendrington.
According to a Coast Guard officer at the St. Thomas station who was one of those notified of the apparent theft, when he looked into the matter, he heard a different story.
"I got a report from Stanley that the boat was stolen," Coast Guard Lt. Chuck Barbee said. "I called the owners . . . and they said they repossessed it."
A call to Mobile Bay Ferry Co. in Pensacola, Fla., reached an office worker who confirmed that the vessel known as Tug Life is owned by the company but referred all other questions to Mobile Bay president Edward Von Bergen. The worker, who asked not to be named, said Von Bergen was on the road and unavailable for comment.
Last spring, Tug Life became the latest entry in the expanding barge industry serving commuters and commercial vehicles traveling between St. Thomas and St. John. The large, modern vessel, featuring a snack bar and a drive-around deck, from the start offered the lowest rate around — $25 round trip. The barge quickly became a popular alternative to the competition – – four barges operated by Boyson Inc. and the Cap'n Vic run by Republic.
Boyson, which had been charging $50 for the round trip, dropped its rate to $40 when Republic came on with a $40 fare. With the addition of Tug Life, Boyson lowered its rate again, to $30, while Republic held steady at $40.
Motorists arriving at the Cruz Bay Bulkhead to board their Thursday morning ferry reported that they were greeted by a sign saying simply that Tug Life would not be providing service.
The barge made the news recently after Hendrington defied a Port Authority order to remove the vessel from Cruz Bay Creek as Hurricane Lenny approached the islands. He contended afterward that he was justified in his action because to have obeyed the order would have meant putting his vessel at risk to cross stormy seas and tie up in Red Hook in an unsheltered area without a designated mooring.
Port Authority spokeswoman Melanie Francis said Thursday that she had spoken with marine manager Marie Walters about the Tug Life and that Walters had told her that the disappearance of the barge had nothing to do with the pre-hurricane incident and that she had no information to share concerning the current situation.
Hendrington said he has contacted his lawyers and intends to have his barge back in action in a matter of days.


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