Although ferry service in the U.S has been generally regulated and safe, there have been several high-profile accidents that have occurred. In 2003, a Staten Island ferry crashed, killing 11 people and injuring 70. In 2004, a water taxi in Maryland capsized, killing five people and injuring 16. The same Staten Island ferry involved in the 2003 crash was in another crash in 2010 which injured 48 people.
And just this month, a high speed ferry that was filled with hundreds of passengers crashed into a lower Manhattan dock, injuring about 70 people, 11 of them seriously, including one who suffered a severe head wound falling down a stairwell. The crash occurred during morning rush hour. The ferry had embarked from Atlantic Highlands, a part of the Jersey Shore still struggling to recover from Superstorm Sandy.
The Seastreak Wall Street ferry, which was built in 2003, had recently undergone a major overhaul that gave it new engines and a new propulsion system. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the accident and will try to determine if the recent repairs may have played a role in the accident.
Many of the passengers were standing, waiting to disembark, when the ferry crashed into the dock. Dozens crashed into walls and fell onto the floor upon impact. Paramedics treated bruised and dazed passengers on the pier for nearly two hours. Firefighters carried several patients on flat-board stretchers and other patients left in wheelchairs.
There have been reports of recent crew complaints about the boat’s maneuverability. The work done to the ferry over the summer was done to save fuel costs and cut carbon dioxide pollution in half, making it the “greenest ferry in America”. The captain of the ferry told NTSB investigators that the vessel had a mechanical failure and he was unable to put it in reverse when he tried to dock.
Jason Reimer – who has 17 years of ferry experience, 12 of them as captain – told investigators that as the ferry approached the dock, he moved from a central console to one on the right side of the vessel, as was the usual procedure. When he tried to put the ferry in reverse, it didn’t work. He quickly switched back to the center, but reverse didn’t work there either. He told investigators the engines of the boat later died.
In an interview with USA Today, Tom Thompson, executive director of the U.S. Marine Safety Association, said the waters near the Manhattan pier where the Seastreak was trying to dock have “highly variable currents” and are not always easy to navigate. Because the current typically runs counter-clockwise to the boat, boats have to come in fast. “If you wait too long or come in too slow, you will be swept past your pier,” he said. This is known as a “hard landing”.
Marine safety advocate Richard Hiscock says that many ferry terminals are sited with little consideration of the environment and how strong currents and winds will affect dockings. Hiscock recommends that passengers stay seated until the ferry has completely docked to help avoid injuries in the event of a hard landing.
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