April 8, 2002 – While the ferry boat Voyager Eagle has been freed from Johnson's Reef, thanks to help from a big wave, it left behind a seriously damaged reef, V.I. National Park Superintendent John King said Monday.
King said the ferry captain, Renel Lee Chalwell, faces a hearing in U.S. District Court for negligent operations and striking an underwater feature in park waters. King said that Chalwell carried both U.S. and British Virgin Islands driver's licenses and said his place of residence is unclear.
Seas were too rough on Monday to put divers in the water to determine the extent of the damage, King said, but he expects they will be able to survey the reef within a few days. Even so, he said, it was clear that lots of coral heads were broken, and "The damage is going to be significant."
King said he intends to "have a chat" with officials of the company that owns the ferry about restitution. He said he expects it will cost a significant amount of money to make repairs.
A Native Son ferry company spokeswoman confirmed Monday that the company owns the Voyager Eagle. Initial reports had said the stranded vessel was owned by another Tortola-based company, Smith's Ferry Service.
The 85-foot Voyager Eagle went aground around 4 p.m. Sunday on its way from St. Thomas to Tortola. The 33 passengers on board were transferred to a sister ferry, the Oriole, and transported on to Tortola.
Johnson's Reef is located off St. John's North Shore near Trunk Bay. Before the reef was marked with buoys, it was common for vessels to go aground there.
U.S. Coast Guard Lt. John Reinert said heavy seas pushed the Voyager Eagle seaward on Monday morning, freeing it from the reef, then the Oriole towed it home to Tortola. The Oriole had unsuccessfully tried to pull the Voyager Eagle off the reef on Sunday. Efforts to learn more about the boat's damage were unsuccessful.
Reinert said the accident is under investigation and that he expects it will take about two weeks to determine the cause.
King said the accident helps to make a case for the park's proposal in its new Vessel Management Plan to make commercial traffic circle around Johnson's Reef and Whistling Cay. The draft plan is now in the public discussion stage.
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