Page 1 of 3 123 LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 37

Thread: Deadly Crash on Staten Island Ferry

  1. #1
    Forum Veteran
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    New York City

    Default Deadly Crash on Staten Island Ferry

    Staten Island Ferry Accident Leaves 10 Dead
    At Least 34 People Are Injured

    NEW YORK (Oct. 15) - A Staten Island ferry slammed into a pier as it was docking Wednesday, killing at least 10 people, tearing off some victims' limbs and reducing the front of the mighty vessel to a shattered mass of wood, glass and steel. At least 34 people were injured.

    The ferry pilot, responsible for docking the vessel, fled the scene immediately after the crash, went to his Staten Island home and attempted suicide by slitting his wrists and shooting himself with a pellet gun, a police official said on the condition of anonymity. The pilot was rushed to the same hospital as many of the victims and underwent surgery.

    The 310-foot ferry, carrying about 1,500 passengers, plowed into the enormous wooden pilings on the Staten Island end of its run from Manhattan, ripping a giant hole in the right side of the three-level, bright-orange vessel.

    ''There was a lady without legs, right in the middle of the boat,'' said ferry passenger Frank Corchado, 29. ''She was screaming. You ever see anything like that?''

    Corchado said it felt as if the ferry accelerated as it approached land, waking him as he napped on the trip home to Staten Island. He ran away from the front of the boat to safety, but saw others who weren't as lucky - six people dead, including one who had been decapitated.

    Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at least 10 people were killed and 34 injured, making it New York's worst mass-transit accident in nearly a century. Some bodies were accidentally counted twice, leading to an initial report by city officials that 14 people were dead.

    The crash happened on a windswept afternoon, with gusts over 40 mph and the water in New York Harbor very choppy.

    The cause of the crash was not immediately known, although Bloomberg suggested the heavy wind as a possibility. The National Transportation Safety Board convened an accident investigation team, which will look at the weather, among other possible factors.

    ''It's a terrible tragedy, people who were on the way home, all of a sudden, taken from us,'' Bloomberg said at a dockside news conference.

    He said the ferry's crew will be interviewed and tested for drugs and alcohol.

    Firefighters picked their way through the debris aboard the ship, the Andrew J. Barberi, looking for victims, and Coast Guard divers searched the water. At least one body was recovered from the water.

    ''The ferry was coming too fast,'' said witness William Gonzalez, who lives in a nearby apartment complex. ''They had no control to stop the boat.''

    Commuters were trapped in piles of debris aboard the 22-year-old ferry, and victims screamed and dove for cover as metal crunched into wood just before the start of the evening rush hour, tearing girders, splintering planks and tearing a huge hole in the right side of the boat, which has a capacity of 6,000 passengers.

    ''People who were sitting there as the ferry docked were hit by the pilings that came through the side of the boat,'' the mayor said. The pilings hit on the ferry's main deck, crashing into the windows that ordinarily afford a postcard view of the Statue of Liberty.

    ''There were numerous injuries like fractures and lacerations,'' said Fire Department spokeswoman Maria Lamberti. ''There were a couple of people with amputations - legs and arms.''

    At Staten Island University Hospital, two people with amputations were among the victims, said spokeswoman Arleen Ryback. Others were suffering from back and spinal injuries, chest pains and hypothermia.

    The ferry pilot, identified as Richard Smith, was undergoing surgery at the same hospital, said Dr. Pietro Carpenito. The police source said he was taken to the hospital after someone at his home called 911 about an hour after the accident.

    Three people were brought to St. Vincent's Hospital with massive trauma, including one amputee. Others there were also suffering from hypothermia, said spokesman Michael Fagan. The water temperature was about 62 degrees.

    The five-mile trip between Staten Island and Manhattan normally takes 25 minutes. A free ride on the Staten Island Ferry is one of the city's most beloved attractions to New Yorkers and tourists alike, giving visitors a Hollywood-style view of lower Manhattan's skyscrapers.

    The seven boats that make up the Staten Island Ferry fleet carry 70,000 commuters a day between Staten Island and lower Manhattan. The boats make 104 daily trips between the two boroughs. The Andrew J. Barberi travels at about 18 mph.

    Service was suspended on all Staten Island ferries after the 3:20 p.m. accident, and was unlikely to resume until Thursday morning.

    The mayor, who was attending the New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox game with the American League pennant on the line, left Yankee Stadium to head to the scene. He boarded the ferry to assess the damage himself.

    Steamboat ferries began operating between Manhattan and Staten Island in 1817. A railroad company ran the ferry from 1884 until 1905, when it was taken over by the city. It is now run by the city Transportation Department. Several accidents have occurred aboard Staten Island ferries over the years.

    A boiler explosion on a ferry killed 104 passengers as it was preparing to leave Manhattan for Staten Island in 1871.

    In 1997, a car plunged off the ferry as it was docking in Staten Island, causing minor injuries to the driver and a deckhand who was knocked overboard by the car.

    In the summer of 1986, a man wielding a sword attacked riders on a ferry, killing two and injuring nine others before he was subdued by a retired police officer.

    New York's worst subway accident occurred in 1918, when a train derailed in Brooklyn, killing 92 people.

    A New York City subway crash in 1991 killed five people and injured more than 140. Federal investigators blamed the motorman's heavy drinking and lack of sleep.

    10-15-03 2152EDT

    Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. All active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.

  2. #2


    October 16, 2003

    10 Die as Staten Island Ferry Slams Into Pier


    Slide Show

    A Staten Island ferry moving at a rapid clip in gusting winds crashed into a pier at the St. George ferry terminal yesterday afternoon, killing 10 people and injuring dozens of others as the concrete and wood pier sliced through its side, mowing down tourists and commuters.

    The exact cause of the 3:20 p.m. accident was not clear last night. But law enforcement officials said the ferry's pilot fled the scene to his home in the Westerleigh neighborhood of Staten Island, barricaded himself in a bathroom, slit his wrists and shot himself twice in the chest with a powerful pellet gun.

    The pilot, identified by city officials as Assistant Capt. Richard Smith, survived and was in critical condition at a local hospital, where detectives were waiting to interview him. Mr. Smith was in charge of the boat when it neared the Staten Island terminal at a high speed, and his captain noticed that the ferry was off course, according to one police official. The captain tried to get control of the boat, the official said, but it slammed into a concrete maintenance pier about 400 feet from the nearest ferry slip.

    Investigators were trying to determine last night whether Mr. Smith had been drinking or taking drugs, had fallen asleep or was perhaps incapacitated as a result of a medical condition, a law enforcement official said.

    Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, speaking at a news conference, called the collision a tragic accident, but declined to speculate on the cause. He said all the crew members were alive and were being questioned. Ferry service was suspended indefinitely with the possibility of resuming by morning.

    "People who were on their way home, all of a sudden taken from us," Mr. Bloomberg said of the collision. "Our prayers are for their families and for those who were injured."

    The accident occurred as the 3 p.m. ferry from Manhattan approached the terminal near the end of the 25-minute trip. Some passengers said later that they had noticed that the ferry appeared to be traveling at an unusually high speed, was approaching at an odd angle and had not slowed down normally as it neared the shore.

    It then missed its pier and slammed into the maintenance pier. Passengers compared what ensued to a scene from "Titanic." They said there was an ominous grinding sound followed by a bang, like an explosion. Then the pier, like an iceberg, sheared into the side of the main deck, tearing it open.

    With no announcements or instructions by the boat's crew, passengers began fleeing in confusion and panic. "The beams are coming directly at you, and the side of the boat is disappearing," said Robert Carroll, a lawyer for the state court system, who was on board. "They're ripping up steel, glass, chairs. People were falling. At one point I was in a pile, and I just got up and kept running. It kept coming and coming. If you didn't keep running, you were dead."

    Francis Johnson, visiting New York City from Pensacola, Fla., said, "There was a man in the water clinging to the piling. People started grabbing life jackets. It was very choppy out there, very windy out there. There was all kinds of flotsam and jetsam in the water. It was chaos. The whole time we were not given any instructions."

    Sean Johnson, a 26-year-old construction worker, said: "I ran to the back of the boat. I was going to jump in the water but some guy grabbed me and said, stop. The boat had finally come to a stop."

    Some bodies had been sliced in half, one law enforcement official said. Two people were decapitated; many suffered amputations. Part of the main deck's ceiling collapsed. Debris rained down on passengers as they fled for the stairs to other decks.

    Though there were conflicting accounts of how the accident happened, the police official who described the moments before the crash said that the ferry's captain had noticed that the boat was off course and yelled to Mr. Smith, who did not respond. The captain then tried to take control, the official said.

    As pandemonium reigned on board, the boat was moved away from the damaged pier with the help of tugboats. After 20 minutes, it docked in a ferry slip and passengers were able to leave.

    The ferry, which went into service in 1981 and is named after a high school football coach, has a capacity of 6,000 people. It was unclear yesterday how many were on board. "The boat normally carries about 1,500 and we think it was fully populated," Mr. Bloomberg said. "That's probably a good estimate. We don't have an exact count and never will really."

    Firefighters and rescue workers swarmed onto the boat and began digging out bodies. Scuba divers plunged into the water to search for survivors. The National Transportation Safety Board, which is heading the investigation, dispatched a team of marine investigators led by a former cargo ship captain.

    One body was pulled from the harbor.

    Last night, administrators at St. Vincent's Staten Island Hospital said 22 people were being treated for injuries that ranged from bruises to amputations. Five people were admitted to the hospital and three underwent surgery, including Mr. Smith. Others were treated at Staten Island University Hospital.

    About 100 people gathered at a family assistance center set up in a municipal office building on Stuyvesant Place behind Staten Island Borough Hall. Staffed by grief counselors and clergy members, the center offered information from the police and hospitals about the identities of the dead.

    Some 1,500 calls poured in to the city's 311 information number from people seeking information about victims and survivors, said Edward Skyler, a spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg. "The mayor's main concern is that people who have lost loved ones be contacted quickly and sensibly," he said.

    United States Representative Vito J. Fossella, who represents Staten Island, said: "It is a gut-wrenching day for the people of Staten Island. Every household on Staten Island has a family member or knows someone who takes the ferry every day. It is something everyone can relate to."

    Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton said: "My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of the victims of this terrible tragedy. While all of us in New York are shocked to learn of the crash, we know that the community of Staten Island has been especially hard hit."

    Back on the Manhattan end of the ferry line, police officers and transportation workers with bullhorns turned thousands of commuters away from the ferry terminal. They pointed them toward express buses and the R train to Brooklyn with connections to shuttle bus service to Staten Island.

    On most weekdays, five boats carry some 65,000 passengers the 5.2 miles between Manhattan and Staten Island in a total of 104 trips. Serious accidents are rare. But in 1978, 173 people were treated at hospitals after a ferry crashed into a seawall at the tip of Lower Manhattan in thick fog.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  3. #3


    October 16, 2003


    New York City's Worst Transit Disasters


    The worst accident on a Staten Island ferry was the explosion of a boiler on the Westfield II, which killed 125 passengers as the boat departed South Ferry on July 30, 1871.

    Yesterday's ferry accident appeared to be one of the most deadly accidents in the city's public transportation system. Ninety-seven people were killed in a 1918 subway accident, and in 1991, five people were killed in a subway crash caused by a drunken motorman.

    In the 1991 accident, more than 200 people were injured in the crash at Union Square Station on Aug. 28.

    The motorman admitted that he had been drinking all day and was sentenced to up to 15 years in jail for manslaughter.

    Eight months earlier, on Dec. 28, 1990, two people were killed and 188 were injured in an electrical fire in the tunnel near Clark Street in Brooklyn.

    On July 3, 1981, a motorman was killed and more than 135 passengers were hurt when an IRT train crashed into the rear of a train stopped in a Brooklyn tunnel.

    The worst subway disaster in the city's history occurred on Nov. 1, 1918, when a derailment killed 97 people in Brooklyn. The driver was a train dispatcher filling in for striking motormen.

    Until Sept. 11, 2001, the single worst disaster in the city's history was the wreck of the General Slocum, an excursion vessel that caught fire, killing at least 1,021 people.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  4. #4


    PS: Here's a graphic from NY Newsday on how this accident happened. Be advised that the picture isn't pretty. :

  5. #5


    October 18, 2003

    The Daily, Death-Defying Commute


    The gruesome crash of the Staten Island ferry on Wednesday came as a shock. How could one of those lumbering ferry boats come to grief on a routine afternoon trip in a harbor that seems all but empty? But it was hardly unprecedented. As we tend to forget nowadays, New York was born a harbor town, and our waterways have historically been fraught with peril, even for commuters.

    The most spectacular maritime disaster was the fire on the General Slocum, which killed more New Yorkers than any catastrophe before 9/11 and which even changed the human geography of the city. Hired as an excursion boat for the German-American parishioners of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in the East Village, the Slocum caught fire shortly after leaving its East River dock on June 15, 1904. The ship's fire hoses and life jackets were rotten; by the time the captain was able to run the ship onto the rocks of Hell's Gate, it was in flames.

    Within 15 minutes, 1,021 of the 1,331 passengers died, most of them women and children. The disaster so devastated the remaining German immigrants in the East Village that they moved en masse to Yorkville on the Upper East Side. The General Slocum fire was reported around the world, and is even mentioned in James Joyce's "Ulysses," which takes place over the course of the following day.

    But for decades before that disaster drew global attention, New Yorkers had subjected themselves to daily terrors on the Hudson River. Robert Fulton had put the world's first real steamboat, the Clermont, on the river in 1807; by the 1820's the robber barons Cornelius Vanderbilt, Daniel Drew and George Law were in a cutthroat competition for travelers between Albany and Manhattan's West Side docks. Fares plummeted to 50 cents from $7, and the steamboats became floating palaces — more than 200 feet long and festooned with gilded bows and Corinthian columns. Under crystal chandeliers and rococo ceilings, passengers feasted on beefsteak.

    But the ships were also floating deathtraps. Rival owners tried to lure passengers by racing their boats against each other — an incredibly dangerous endeavor in an age of iron boilers. The competitions were so intense at times that the crews would even chop up the fine furniture and woodwork for fuel. This resulted in the predictable disasters. The boilers of the Aetna and the General Jackson exploded, killing scores. In 1845, the Swallow ran aground on a small island while racing two other steamers, taking a dozen lives. Even the longtime river champion, the Reindeer, met its end in what the historian Carl Carmer described as "a holocaust of bursting boilers, flaming woodwork, and shrieking, dying passengers."

    Perhaps the ultimate race began on the morning of July 28, 1852, when the Henry Clay and the Armenia set off from Albany, while runners on the riverfront cried out "Hurrah for Harry of the West!" With the Henry Clay's captain writhing below decks with food poisoning, its owner, Thomas Collyer, pushed it relentlessly in the Armenia's wake. Both boats rushed through their scheduled stops or skipped them altogether. A number of fearful passengers got off while they could, but, amazingly, most decided to remain.

    Finally, five miles above Kingston, the Henry Clay surged into the lead, cutting across the Armenia's bow and splintering its larboard woodwork while the passengers cheered. But as the ship steamed past Yonkers, a canvas covering above one of its overworked boilers caught fire; the high winds on the river that day quickly fanned the flames into an inferno.

    Before it was over, some 80 passengers were dead; many drowned in just a few feet of water. Among the victims were a former mayor of New York, Nathaniel Hawthorne's sister and the landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing. Nearly forgotten today, Downing was a national avatar of taste — a sort of cross between Martha Stewart and Frank O. Gehry — and was the likely choice to design Central Park. Instead, that task fell to two men he had mentored and introduced, Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux.

    Wednesday's calamity was of course not due to any such systematic recklessness. Because of great advances in technology and yes, government regulations, most of our commuter trips today are made in utter safety. It does, however, serve to remind us how sudden death can still be, even on a routine trip across our quiet harbor.

    Kevin Baker is author of the historical novels "Dreamland'' and "Paradise Alley.''

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  6. #6


    October 19, 2003


    Aboard That Most Mellow of Mass Transit


    Staten Islanders don't love their ferry because it is an icon. While they take pride in its stately glide across the harbor and its habit of steering photogenically past the towers of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty's skirts, according to a survey of riders, it is the ferry's intimacy and invitation to reverie that they truly embrace.

    Many people may wonder why the passengers on the Andrew J. Barberi last week didn't notice something was wrong until it was too late. But as the survey reveals and as regular riders know, the ferry, more than other forms of mass transit, can lull people into letting the world slip away.

    The poll, conducted several years ago, is based on responses from 350 riders. Tamara Coombs, a member of the St. George Civic Association, which sponsored the survey with an eye toward persuading the city to improve ferry service, was surprised to learn how many commuters regard the trip as a 25-minute retreat from daily life.

    "People use it to eat, read, meditate, plan," she said. "A group of nuns said they prayed. A man used his rides to write a book over five years in half-hour segments. And of course, some women go the ladies' room and do a complete makeover."

    In the morning, some doors to the women's room are left open, revealing dozens of women sitting and standing in ranks, like Napoleonic infantrymen, in front of a roomwide mirror as they thicken their lashes and dab on foundation. The custom was the subject of a documentary by Katja Esson, a German filmmaker who lives in New York. The film, called "Ferry Tales" and released this year, was shown at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center.

    You do not see women primping in a powder room on a subway, bus or train. Such a scene is made possible by the ferry's smooth ride, its spaciousness and its feeling of detachment because it is waterborne and makes no stops en route.

    Dan Icolari, who rode the ferry only an hour before the Barberi crashed, found the trip typically serene. "The sky and the sun and the waves,'' he said, "they lulled me into a daydream."

    The boats, as Ms. Coombs noted, are a kind of floating public space. "There are places for social interaction, places for watching people walk by, and places to be by yourself,'' she said. Indeed, on just about any trip, you can see the brooding commuter sipping a beer, well-dressed women musing over a law brief or some knitting, a group of Polish maids gossiping as they ride out to clean homes on the North Shore.

    For death to rend such interludes was, for ferry riders, a shock that could hardly be more complete.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  7. #7


    October 20, 2003


    On the Ferry, and Waiting for Answers


    IT was pretty much back to normal on the Staten Island ferries yesterday. Kids in shiny baseball jackets argued about the Series; parents lined up at the snack counter to buy their children glazed doughnuts; tourists gazed, transfixed, at the Statue of Liberty, as did the occasional otherwise jaded New Yorker because the city's special beauty never gets old.

    So, yes, it was back to normal, or so it seemed, until the ferry John F. Kennedy approached the dock in Staten Island, and a number of passengers who had been standing outside on the deck moved back a few feet as if responding to a silent signal, then looked at one another sheepishly.

    "I'm a little — iffy," said Melissa Dulcio, a waitress, fluttering her right hand to indicate shakiness.

    Some passengers were fatalistic, some accusatory, some forgiving. But it seemed yesterday as though nobody riding across New York Harbor was uninformed about the accident on Wednesday, when a ferryboat that had failed to slow as it approached Staten Island overshot its terminal and hit a maintenance pier. Ten people were killed, scores were injured.

    The horrifying details were well known on board the ferry yesterday, by everyone from the just-arrived visitor from County Mayo to the Staten Island native who has been riding the ferries for 17 years.

    The accident has entered that especially awful chapter of city lore reserved for infamous disasters — the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to name just two. And, as in each of those cases, the public wants answers so that maybe the next tragedy waiting to happen will not.

    "Come on, how can there not have been somebody who realized, `Hey, we're about to dock, and ohmigod, we should be slowing down, but we're flying?' " asked William Cincola, a Staten Islander and a clerk at the New York Stock Exchange. "That dude should never have been there by himself."

    He was referring to the pilot of the doomed ferry, Assistant Capt. Richard J. Smith, who either passed out or somehow lost control of the boat; he tried to kill himself after the crash and remains hospitalized, officials said. According to officials knowledgeable about the crash investigation, the ferry's ranking officer, Capt. Michael J. Gansas, was apparently not in the pilot house as the ferry approached the dock, arriving too late to prevent the crash. He is expected to be questioned by federal investigators tomorrow.

    City rules are said to require both the captain and assistant captain to be at the helm when docking, though the language of the rules has not been made public nor is it known if they are routinely enforced.

    Testimony from a lawsuit involving a 2001 ferry incident suggests that life in the pilot house, a glass-enclosed room about 8 feet wide and 10 feet long atop each ferry, is informal and governed by custom. In the 2001 case, a British tourist sued the city — and got an undisclosed settlement — for injuries she suffered when a ferry made a rough landing in Manhattan.

    Ferry rides are overwhelmingly safe, but these two accidents have raised some serious questions, key among them whether there is a reliable backup system if the pilot is incapacitated.

    Subways have a "deadman feature": The train moves only when its operator applies pressure on the throttle. If the operator faints, the train stops. There is no equivalent for the city's ferries, which can carry 6,000 people in rush hour. Passengers have reported that alarms did not go off and that there was no instruction coming over the public address system. If so, why?

    IRIS WEINSHALL, the city's transportation commissioner, said her department could not release the ferry rules and regulations because they are part of the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. But that investigation could take months. Nobody is going to wait, especially not the families of the dead and injured.

    Ms. Weinshall asks the public and the news media to resist speculating and focus on helping the victims. So far, the office of Staten Island's borough president, James P. Molinaro, is raising money through a nonprofit corporation, and Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and the Bloomberg administration are helping get insurance coverage for the injured who are uninsured.

    The commissioner's frustration is understandable. But so is the frustration of those who want to know sooner rather than later what went wrong. In New York, with its dependency on mass transit, "You're putting yourself in someone else's hands a lot," said Kendra Jimenez, a hairstylist from Brooklyn who was on the ferry yesterday on her way to her father's home. "It makes you think."

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  8. #8


    October 23, 2003


    Latecomer on Openness in Staten Island Ferry Crash


    IT took longer than New Yorkers would have liked, but at least the mayor and his appointees have recognized the public's need for information about last week's deadly crash of a Staten Island ferry and finally released the city's regulations for operating ferries.

    The operating manual is a crucial document, because its language is demonstrably broad, confirming — as was widely speculated after the accident — that ferry crews are guided more by custom than by written procedures.

    Until now, that was not considered a problem. The ferries have been operating for 98 years, they carry 18 million people a year, and while they have had accidents, none had resulted in a fatality. There was no obvious reason for city officials to worry about the safety of ferryboats.

    Then, last Wednesday, the ferry Andrew J. Barberi missed its berth and careered into a service pier near St. George Terminal on Staten Island, killing 10 passengers and injuring scores more. The assistant captain, Richard J. Smith, somehow lost control. The boat had no known mechanical failures but did not slow down, as ferries must, as it approached the ferry slip. That posed the question of who or what was the fail-safe system.

    Subways are built to come to an emergency stop if an operator is incapacitated and can no longer push down on the throttle. But ferries like the Barberi weigh 3,300 tons and are 310 feet long. Ferry fail-safes are not mechanical but human: another pilot.

    On the Barberi, it was Capt. Michael J. Gansas, who was suspended yesterday by Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall for refusing to cooperate in city and federal investigations. Captain Gansas, facing dismissal, has yet to answer subpoenas or news inquiries, citing medical problems stemming from the accident.

    The central question is his whereabouts — whether he was in the pilothouse and if not, why not. Because the city regulations are vague on many points, but do state flatly that when a ferry is docking "the captain will be in the in-shore pilot house insuring the aprons and bridge are in the correct position to receive the boat, and the slip is in otherwise safe condition to dock." In other words, if the assistant captain is at the controls, the captain must also be present; there is no language requiring the reverse, and no language saying that both must be in the pilothouse during docking.

    Those are just two ambiguities. Another is a regulation giving the captain wide latitude during an emergency. When issuing new ferry safety rules yesterday, Ms. Weinshall said she interpreted the procedures to require the presence of both the captain and assistant captain in the pilothouse during docking.

    THEORIES about procedures on ferries circulated for days after the accident, inevitably, fueled by the fact that the Department of Transportation would not release the rules until Monday — five days after the accident — citing the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. Withholding information may well have had the very impact Ms. Weinshall and others deplored — encouraging speculation.

    As city officials have since pointed out, this was a crisis atmosphere. And in crises, government's fondness for secrecy has a way of surfacing — even when the government favors openness, as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's administration generally does.

    In contrast to Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who made a near sport of withholding information and defending his position in court (often unsuccessfully), Mr. Bloomberg has made a point of supporting the free flow of information.

    But given a chance, that secrecy card has a way of popping to the top of the governmental deck. "To say this was a fast-moving issue is obvious," said one mayoral adviser. "Everyone was very skittish, nobody knew what the law was, within 24 hours there were all sorts of investigations, nobody knew what to do and the Transportation Department said they had to talk to lawyers."

    And they must have put secrecy and confidentiality ahead of First Amendment rights — as the administration did when it would not let antiwar protesters march last spring, or when the Police Department questioned some demonstrators about their political activities.

    The administration subsequently reversed its policies or discontinued them in the face of criticism. And maybe after some second-thinking at City Hall. As some city officials acknowledged yesterday, the manual of ferry regulations was always a public document. Emphasis on the public.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  9. #9


    October 25, 2003

    Ferry Crash Raises Issue: Were Rules Enforced?


    This article was reported by Randy Kennedy, Mike McIntire, William K. Rashbaum and Michelle O'Donnell and was written by Mr. Kennedy.

    Ellen G. Engleman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, inspecting damage to the Andrew J. Barberi, a Staten Island ferry that rammed a pier last week, killing 10 passengers.

    Since at least the 1950's, the Staten Island ferry has been governed by a detailed set of rules written to ensure the safety of one of the nation's busiest waterborne commuter routes.

    But an examination of safety records and interviews with ferry employees and city and Coast Guard officials paint a picture of a system in which tradition and habit often trump formal procedure, where oversight is often limited and where even determining the safe number of passengers taken on any given trip is left to the visual estimates of deckhands.

    The ferry carries 18 million riders a year and has been, for almost a century, one of the safest ways to travel in New York City. But after one of its biggest boats rammed at almost full speed into a pier last week, killing 10 passengers, serious questions have been raised about how vigorously its operations are monitored and its rules are enforced.

    Documents from the Coast Guard, which has oversight responsibility, show that its inspections tend to focus more on the physical condition of the ferries than on the performance of crew members. And the occasional recommendations that the Coast Guard has made relating to passenger safety appear, at least in some instances, to have gone unaddressed by the city.

    Indeed, in one 1998 report after an accident involving a ferry that left passengers injured, Coast Guard officials concluded that crew members and city officials disregarded suggestions to enhance warning systems intended to protect passengers in the event of a collision. According to the report, the "overriding opinion" of the ferry operators "is that passengers will ignore all warnings, so why bother trying to improve them."

    "Apparently then," the report concludes, "these occasional injuries will be considered part of the cost of operating."

    The magnitude of the accident last week, on the Andrew J. Barberi, could ultimately lead to major changes in New York's ferry operations. The National Transportation Safety Board, the lead agency investigating the case, has said it will examine all the policies and procedures that could have played a role in the crash.

    In several important respects, New York City's ferry operations contrast with those of Washington State, which runs the only ferry system larger than New York's. Unlike New York, for example, Washington's entire ferry fleet is equipped with satellite navigation devices that help determine the speed of the boats — New York ferry captains can only guess how fast they are going. Also, in New York no count is kept of the number of passengers on board and no regular announcements are made regarding emergency procedures, as is done in Washington State.

    Iris Weinshall, the commissioner of the Department of Transportation, defended the safety record of the ferries, pointing out that there had been no major accidents for 98 years. But she added that she was now actively exploring whether more safety procedures needed to be developed and enforced.

    Last year, the city disbanded a small inspection team whose job was to ensure that ferry employees and other transportation workers followed safety rules and other regulations. City officials say the five-member team, made up of former highway repairers, was dismantled because it was completely ineffective and, especially on the ferry, focused more on dirty floors and improper uniforms than on safety monitoring. The city says that it does not intend to replace the team.

    Officials say that the job of ensuring the safe operations of the ferry ultimately falls to port captains, one stationed at the Whitehall terminal in Manhattan and the other at the St. George terminal on Staten Island. The officials said that, among their other duties, the two port captains are supposed to make six crossings a day to observe ferry operations and ensure that rules are being followed.

    "We believe that the port captain who is doing this job is really checking on the operations of the ferry," said Ms. Weinshall, adding that the port captains generally had long years of experience on the ferries.

    But in the aftermath of the accident, she said the department was considering whether an additional layer of monitoring was needed. "We're looking at everything," she said. "That's one of the questions. Can we have even more of a check, more than the port captain, to have even more oversight of the operations."

    A number of current and former ferry workers and supervisors say that the many duties of the port captains leave them little time for ensuring that rules are rigorously followed by the crew on board.

    Among these rules is one that requires both the captain and assistant captain, also known as the pilot, to be together inside the pilot house as the boat docks. Whether that regulation was followed has emerged as a focus in the investigation of the crash, in which it appears that the assistant pilot, Richard J. Smith, may have blacked out or fallen asleep and lost control of the boat and that the captain, Michael J. Gansas, may not have been at his proper post. (Yesterday, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn issued a subpoena to compel Captain Gansas to talk to federal authorities.)

    A former senior ferry official dismissed the notion that the port captains, who are the day-to-day operational managers of the ferry system, had time aboard the boats to enforce such rules about whether crew members were all at their proper posts.

    The official, however, played down the need for any such oversight. "The cadres of professionals that are the officers of the Staten Island Ferry, I would put them up against anyone at Cunard or anywhere else," he said. "They're stone-cold professionals." The former official said that the rule about where captains were to be during docking was often ignored.

    "I would be willing to bet that they had to look long and hard to find that in their standard operating procedures," the former official said. "Because it's not a standard operating procedure that's adhered to."

    He added, however, that he did not believe the pilot of the boat really needed another officer alongside him at docking, saying that "it would be redundant, and necessary only if someone is going to have a heart attack or some type of episode."

    In interviews in the last week with former and current ferry employees, many described how the operations of the boats were largely left to the captains and could vary widely.

    A chief engineer with more than two decades of experience described the ferries as virtual fiefs ruled by the captains, who, except for adhering to basic maritime regulations set by the Coast Guard, exercised wide discretion. "Each vessel is like its own little city, and the captain is the mayor," the engineer said. "They have the authority to do whatever they see fit."

    The engineer added that, in his experience, two officers were present at docking in the pilot house only during bad weather, when one manned the radar and the other steered the boat.

    The Coast Guard's inspection of ferry operations places heavy emphasis on the boats' equipment, and little on the performance and competency of the crew, according to documents and interviews with ferry crew members. In fact, a federal audit of the Coast Guard's ferry safety program three years ago said it did a good job of checking vessels' physical condition and licensing documentation. But the audit itself did not assess how well the Coast Guard monitored the operation of the ferries or the qualifications of crews.

    Records of investigations of previous accidents involving Staten Island ferries show that the Coast Guard has repeatedly admonished the city to do a better job of preventing risk of injuries to passengers.

    One Coast Guard accident report observed that liability payments to injured passengers did not come from the Transportation Department's budget and that such a situation "seems to weaken any motivation for improvements in safety."

    Among the Coast Guard's safety recommendations was one that has direct bearing on the deadly crash involving the Andrew J. Barberi: That two crew members be present in the pilot house to watch for potential problems as the ferry approaches the terminal.

    That recommendation followed a September 1998 ferry accident at the Whitehall terminal that injured two passengers, leaving one with a dislocated shoulder. The Coast Guard concluded that a system should be established to give immediate warning to passengers when it appeared that a jolt would occur. Its recommendation suggests that the city's rule requiring the captain to be in pilot house during docking was not being regularly followed.

    The Coast Guard said it believed a warning system "could be accomplished without any additional personnel by having the captain who is not driving, or other crew member, watching and ready to sound an alert."

    The Barberi accident followed several recent warnings by federal officials that passenger ferries were prime terrorist targets and that ferry operators should increase the number of crew members serving as lookouts. A bulletin issued on Sept. 12 by the Department of Homeland Security advised vessels to provide a vigilant bridge watch while under way and an additional watch stander on deck who would remain in radio contact with the bridge. City officials would not comment on whether those procedures were put into place on the ferries.

    One ferry captain who retired in 1990 said that, because of several factors, he believed the quality and performance of ferry officers had declined in the last several years. The captain said that when the harbor was much busier, traversing it in a ferry was something like a game of checkers, with each ferry carefully negotiating the paths of the other vessels. But as traffic waned and radar equipment was installed on the boats, the captain said younger captains became more lax about the crossings, setting a relaxed tone down the chain of command.

    "No one was paying attention to operations," he said.

    But Ms. Weinshall strongly disagreed that there was a relaxed attitude toward safety among the ferry's operators or a decline in the quality of the crew. She said that in 1997, when the ferry dropped the fare and made crossings free, the city decided to keep adhering to the stricter Coast Guard safety rules that pertain to vessels that carry paying passengers and signed an agreement with the Coast Guard to keep those rules in place. She added that safety and operations drills — including steering drills, anchor drills, fire drills and abandon-ship drills — were conducted once a week on most boats.

    She said that she had no concerns about disbanding the five-member field inspection team, which was set up in 1996 mostly to ensure that pothole repair crews were doing their jobs. About a quarter of the team's time was supposed to be devoted to monitoring crews on the ferries.

    She said there had been no new or improved unit created. She noted, however, that besides the port captains the department had customarily asked senior ferry officials and other top transportation officials who took the boats to be watchful.

    "So there are a lot of people with eyes who are looking around," she said.

    While the ferries, unlike others around the country, perform no count of the number passengers — the count was abandoned after the ferry became free in 1997 and turnstiles were removed from the terminals — Ms. Weinshall said that crew members were experienced at making sure the boats were not overfilled. She said the Coast Guard had agreed that it would be impossible to keep a count after charging for rides was ended.

    "Our crews can pretty much thumbnail sketch how many people are on board," she said.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  10. #10


    October 29, 2003

    Doubt Is Cast on Accounts About Crash of Ferry


    Two witnesses to the Staten Island ferry crash this month said they saw the ferry's assistant captain erect and alone at the controls about a minute before the vessel slammed into a pier, killing 10 people, an official briefed on the investigation said yesterday.

    The witnesses — a crew member and a man on a nearby tugboat — also said that the ferry's captain, Michael J. Gansas, was not in the Staten Island pilothouse of the Andrew J. Barberi, as he told investigators, the official said.

    The witness on the tugboat saw Captain Gansas running across the top of the ferry — from the Manhattan pilothouse to the Staten Island pilothouse — after the accident, and the crew member, who was in the Staten Island pilothouse, said Captain Gansas was not there roughly a minute before the boat crashed, the official said.

    The two accounts throw into question some of the earlier versions of events that led up to the Oct. 15 crash. Those include one provided by the assistant captain, Richard J. Smith, who suggested to the police in a brief initial statement that he had lost consciousness, and another by Captain Gansas, who said on the day of the crash that he was in the pilothouse and tried to stop the boat from ramming into the pier.

    The two accounts are among many provided to investigators, who have not ruled out the possibility that the assistant captain may have become incapacitated in some way.

    But as National Transportation Safety Board investigators have determined that the vessel was traveling at nearly its top speed and did not slow down as it approached the Staten Island terminal, the accounts raise questions as to why no attempt was apparently made to slow it down.

    Investigators were able to determine that the man seen running across the top of the ferry from one wheelhouse to the other was Captain Gansas because only he and Captain Smith wore the distinctive uniform of white shirts and black trousers that are known as salt and pepper among the ferry crews, the official said.

    Department of Transportation officials have said that it is standard procedure for both captains to be in the pilothouse on the docking end of the ferry when it pulls into its slips in Manhattan and Staten Island. But several current and former veteran ferry officers have said that the procedure is often ignored.

    The crash, the worst transportation disaster in the city since 1950, is the subject of two parallel investigations.

    One is being conducted by the safety board with the aim of ensuring safe ferry operations. The other is being conducted by the New York Police Department and the office of the Staten Island district attorney, William L. Murphy, to determine whether a crime was committed.

    The evidence compiled as part of the initial police investigation, which has included interviews with all 16 crew members, most of whom were cooperative with detectives, has been handed over to Mr. Murphy, who could decide as early as today to present the evidence to a grand jury, which would then weigh criminal charges.

    Most members of the vessel's crew have been interviewed more than once, but Captain Gansas and Captain Smith made only brief statements to the police in the hours after the accident, officials have said. Captain Gansas has refused to speak to the N.T.S.B. or police investigators, citing what his lawyer said was the trauma of the crash.

    Captain Smith, who the authorities said fled the dock after the crash, went home and tried to kill himself, remains hospitalized.

    Lawyers for Captain Gansas, who was suspended without pay after he refused to talk to city lawyers and has been ordered to appear in court on Nov. 5 to talk to safety board investigators, declined to comment yesterday on the witness accounts that place him in the wrong pilothouse.

    In a written statement yesterday, Captain Smith's lawyers, Joel S. Cohen and Alan M. Abramson, said, "It is our understanding that Assistant Captain Smith passed out while operating the vessel," adding that any account "suggesting that Captain Smith did not experience some kind of blackout is based on incomplete or inaccurate information and is just not correct."

    The statement also said that he was undergoing tests "to determine the cause of this episode" but that the tests were not yet complete. Mr. Cohen said in a brief interview that his client was being moved from St. Vincent's Hospital, where he was taken after the suicide attempt, to another hospital, where he will be treated for two clogged arteries.

    Captain Smith, in his brief comments to the police, also said that he had taken blood pressure medication on the morning of the crash. Information from his pharmacy and medical records showed that he had prescriptions for six different medications. But the official briefed on the investigation said the inquiry had found that none of them "would have an impact on his ability to operate" the vessel.

    It remained unclear whether he had any of them in his bloodstream at the time of the accident.

    Blood tests found that he had no alcohol or illegal drugs in his bloodstream when he was tested after the crash, although he did have a tolerable level of the over-the-counter pain reliever Aleve in his system, the official said. The tests for prescription drugs have not yet been completed, the official said.

    In addition to the high blood pressure medication, Captain Smith had a prescription for a medication to reduce his cholesterol level and one for a popular drug to aid in sleeping, but the official said that even if he had taken the sleeping medication during the day, it would not have made him drowsy.

    While safety board investigators looking into the crash have all but completed their on-site inquiry in New York City, the agency may hold public hearings on the crash in Washington in the next few months, officials said.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  11. #11


    October 30, 2003

    Federal Prosecutors in Brooklyn Announce Criminal Investigation of S.I. Ferry Crash


    A wreath was tossed into New York Harbor Wednesday in a service at the St. George Esplanade on Staten Island in memory of the 10 people killed in the Oct. 15 crash of a Staten Island ferry. Officials announced an investigation into possible federal criminal charges in the crash.

    Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn announced yesterday that they were conducting their own criminal investigation into the Staten Island ferry crash that killed 10 people, in addition to inquiries by city police, state prosecutors and federal safety investigators.

    The Staten Island district attorney, William L. Murphy, and police officials, who have been investigating the Oct. 15 crash for the last two weeks, said they would cooperate with the office of the United States attorney in Brooklyn, Roslynn R. Mauskopf.

    In a brief written statement, Ms. Mauskopf said, "We have taken this action to fulfill the federal government's significant responsibility to protect the safety of the millions who travel on New York's waterways each year," and added, "We will apply the full resources of the United States government to follow the facts and determine if there is criminal liability, and if so, we will hold those involved accountable for their conduct."

    Ms. Mauskopf's office will consider bringing charges under a federal statute that was used nearly 100 years ago to convict the captain of the steamer General Slocum after more than 1,000 people died in a fire, and was used more recently after the Golden Venture, a ship carrying illegal Chinese immigrants, ran aground off Queens in 1993 and 10 people drowned trying to swim ashore. Under the statute, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a crew member or officer is guilty if someone dies as a result of their misconduct, negligence or inattention to duty.

    The announcement came as Mr. Murphy began reviewing the police interviews of crew members and other witnesses to the afternoon crash, and his office said he would convene a state grand jury next week to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.

    Two important witnesses, the vessel's captain and assistant captain, who have become the focus of the Police Department's inquiry, made brief statements to the police shortly after the crash but have not been questioned by detectives, officials have said.

    The assistant captain, Richard J. Smith, who suggested to investigators in his statement that he passed out, has been hospitalized since trying to kill himself after the crash. The captain, Michael J. Gansas, has refused to speak to detectives; his lawyer says he was too upset.

    Two witnesses have told police investigators that Captain Smith was erect and alone at the controls of the vessel and that Captain Gansas, despite his brief statement to the contrary, was not in the wheelhouse as the ship crashed. Officials of the federal Department of Transportation have said that their standard procedures require that both captains be in the wheelhouse at the docking end of the ferry when it pulls into its slip.

    Officials involved in the case said a prosecutor from Ms. Mauskopf's office attended meetings with police and prosecutors from Mr. Murphy's office and was briefed on other meetings. An official in Ms. Mauskopf's office would not say what actions it has taken in the investigation, whether subpoenas have been issued or whether a grand jury has begun hearing evidence.

    Two other officials said federal subpoenas have been issued.

    Joel S. Cohen, who along with Alan M. Abramson represents Captain Smith, said they have spoken to the prosecutor in charge of the investigation in Ms. Mauskopf's office and plan to stay in touch. Stephen J. Sheinbaum, a lawyer for Captain Gansas, declined to comment.

    The National Transportation Safety Board is checking to ensure the safety of ferry operations, and the New York Police Department and Mr. Murphy's office are checking to determine whether a crime was committed. The disclosure of the federal inquiry, running parallel to that by the police and Mr. Murphy, means that any potential crime could result in two prosecutions, one in state court and one in federal court.

    Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said yesterday at a news briefing that his detectives would remain the chief criminal investigators and that the two prosecutors' offices would determine the court in which any case might be prosecuted. "These are New York City citizens, residents, that died, so we're going to continue that investigation," he said.

    Depending on the evidence, Mr. Murphy's office could bring charges under a provision of the New York State Maritime Law similar to the federal statute, which carries a maximum sentence of four years. It could decide instead to pursue charges of reckless manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, which carry maximum penalties, respectively, of 15 or 4 years in prison.

    Mr. Murphy said yesterday that he has been in contact with Ms. Mauskopf.

    "There are legitimate federal statutes and they have a right to look at them, and to the extent that they are different from what I can look at, they may be more effective," he said. "At the moment, we're talking, and we're both at the very preliminary stages of this thing, and we promised to keep one another apprised of what we're thinking."

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  12. #12


    November 1, 2003

    History of Human Error Found in Ferry Accidents


    A review of 1,500 Coast Guard safety records over the last 25 years shows that Staten Island ferries have been involved in dozens of accidents that injured hundreds and were often attributed to human error — chiefly what investigators called inattentiveness, poor judgment or negligence by crew members.

    The records of Coast Guard investigations and inspections, as well as those of disciplinary hearings for ferry employees dating to the 1950's, sometimes came to disturbing conclusions. Among them were that ferry managers for years ignored safety recommendations that could have prevented injuries and that some accidents could have been far worse if not for plain luck.

    Taken together, the investigations suggest that the deadly crash last month of the Andrew J. Barberi, which killed 10 passengers, was less than a complete surprise.

    Yesterday, the city's Department of Transportation, which runs the Staten Island ferries, said it, too, would undertake a review of all Coast Guard investigations.

    After a ferry banged into a dock in April 1995, a Coast Guard report attributed injuries to 16 passengers to lax safety rules and said "the number of injuries, and possibly fatalities, could have been much greater" had the incident occurred during rush hour.

    Indeed, when 200 passengers were injured during a rush-hour crash of a ferry in November 1978 into a seawall, investigators concluded that it was merely good fortune that no one was killed.

    Officials came to a similar conclusion after reviewing the circumstances of a collision that sunk the ferry Verrazano on a cold September dawn in 1963. An administrative judge found that the ferry's captain "failed to exhibit the unremitting vigilance" necessary to pilot the boat and noted pointedly that the mostly empty ferry was capable of carrying 3,000 people.

    "Had this collision occurred during a peak loading period or in more open water," the judge said, "the catastrophe would stagger the imagination."

    The review of the records, obtained by The New York Times through a request under the Freedom of Information Act, clearly sheds a harsh light on the role of human failure in ferry operations. Human error is the prime suspect in the Oct. 15 Barberi accident.

    In announcing that the city had asked the United States Merchant Marine Academy to review all reports of past incidents as part of a broad examination of the ferry system's practices and safety record, Iris Weinshall, the transportation commissioner, said that the examination would look at, among other things, the "human factors" that play a role in ferry accidents.

    Tom Cocola, a department spokesman, said the review of past incidents would be a key component of determining how to improve safety. "We want them to look at the old Coast Guard reports of accidents that occurred over the last two to three decades and see what we can learn, what trends developed, and what we can do to improve safety for passengers," Mr. Cocola said. "Every aspect of our operation now is up for review and improvement."

    The records show that since 1978 at least 50 incidents have resulted in injuries to passengers and crew members on the seven ferries that make the daily five-mile runs between the St. George Terminal on Staten Island and Whitehall Street in Manhattan. Not all of those incidents were the result of ferry crashes; some involved slip-and-falls, fingers slammed in gates or other individual mishaps.

    But more than 30 accidents, ranging from collisions to fires, have been blamed on what investigators deemed to be mistakes or acts of negligence by captains, mates, deckhands or other ferry employees. Investigating the hard landing of a ferry five years ago, Coast Guard officials found that managers had increased the risk to passengers by allowing a captain in training to practice his mooring skills by docking the fully loaded ferry.

    "New vessel operators should be given the opportunity to practice docking ferry vessels without passengers aboard," investigators said. "Passengers should not be subject to the additional hazards of practicing captains."

    Some of the records also provide a glimpse of the monetary cost of human error. For instance, a collision involving the ferry Samuel I. Newhouse in December 1992 resulted in no injuries but inflicted close to $120,000 in damage, a report of the incident shows.

    Prior to last month's Barberi accident, the worst incident involved the 1978 crash of the American Legion, which injured about 200 passengers. A Coast Guard investigation found that the captain had exercised poor judgment while navigating through fog, causing the ferry to miss the Whitehall Street Terminal and ram into a concrete sea wall.

    Contributing to the high number of injuries was that many of the passengers were packed near the front of the boat in anticipation of its landing. The failure of ferry operators to enforce rules keeping passengers seated, or at least away from the bow and out of stairways during landings, emerges as a recurring problem.

    After the April 1995 ferry accident that injured 16 passengers, the Coast Guard emphatically urged the city to not allow passengers on the bridge deck until the boat was docked. There is little evidence, however, that the city took the advice to heart.

    Three years later, after a passenger was injured when the Newhouse made a hard landing in July 1998, investigators found that voice announcements by deckhands alerting passengers that the boat was about to dock were "deficient in clarity, volume and content." It also found that the ferries lacked adequate signs and equipment that could be used to keep people away from dangerous areas during landing.

    The Coast Guard recommended that ferry management develop automated announcements to keep passengers informed and add signs and other safety precautions.

    But three months later, after the Barberi made a hard landing that knocked passengers to the deck and caused one to dislocate her shoulder, investigators found that ferry operators had not implemented the recommendations.

    Since the Barberi disaster last month, city transportation officials said they were adopting many recommendations made by the Coast Guard over the years. Deckhands will use rope barriers to keep passengers away from the bow during landings, and more warning signs are being added.

    In addition, the city will now require that at least three people be in the wheelhouse until the ferry docks. That step was inspired by the apparent absence of the captain, Michael J. Gansas, from the Barberi's wheelhouse when it plowed into a pier with only the assistant captain, Richard J. Smith, at the controls.

    Investigators say the Barberi never slowed down as it neared the end of its 22-minute trip to the St. George Terminal. Witnesses have told investigators that Captain Smith appeared to be erect and alone at the controls as the boat approached the pier, and that Captain Gansas was seen running from the opposite end of the boat toward the wheelhouse immediately after impact.

    Although it has long been a practice of the Transportation Department to use lookouts to lessen the chance of human error, the Coast Guard records show it is another safety rule that was not always followed. In fact, they show that ferry managers and employees have often not been attuned to the role of human error in accidents.

    As far back as 1958, when the ferry Dongan Hills collided with a tanker, it was discovered that two lookouts assigned by the captain had abandoned their posts.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  13. #13


    February 13, 2004

    Changes Urged in Operations of S.I. Ferry


    A city-sponsored report released yesterday called for significant changes in the way the Staten Island ferry operates, including adding another senior officer to vessels, establishing formal training for ferry workers, hiring a new chief of operations - even increasing the number of lifeboats and rescue craft on board.

    The report, prepared by the Global Maritime and Transportation School in the United States Merchant Marine Academy on Long Island, follows last October's accident that left 11 people dead. It also recommended instituting a broad "safety management system" already used by much of the maritime industry that would formalize procedures for all aspects of the operation.

    Taken together, the recommendations would transform a New York institution that had fallen behind others in the seafaring world and been victimized in part by its own insular culture, in which tradition and practice trumped formal procedures and innovations adopted elsewhere.

    The city Department of Transportation commissioner, Iris Weinshall, in promising to adopt the recommendations, declared an end yesterday to "the old Staten Island ferry culture."

    "Its time has come and gone," she said.

    While calling for changes in the ferry system, the report credited it for its effectiveness despite limited money and staffing and the "existence of a corporate culture within the ferry organization which may not be conducive to operating a first-rate marine transportation system."

    "It is a good operation," said Capt. Christopher J. McMahon, director of the Global Maritime school, pointing out that the ferry already exceeded minimum safety standards set by the Coast Guard.

    Absent from the report was any mention of what has become a focus of the criminal investigation into the fatal accident on Oct. 15: whether rules about having the captain and assistant captain in the wheelhouse during docking were properly disseminated by officials.

    The pilot, Richard J. Smith, an assistant captain, has told the authorities that he lost consciousness just before the crash. Several witnesses have said that Capt. Michael J. Gansas was not in the pilothouse with him when the accident happened, as the city said was required. But many ferry employees said they were never notified of that requirement or other rules.

    Yesterday, Ms. Weinshall repeated the city's contention. "We believe there were written procedures," she said.

    Mr. Smith met with prosecutors again yesterday for "an extended period of time," a law enforcement official said. "The conversation was general, about his medications, about the procedures."

    The three-month assessment, officials pointed out yesterday, was prompted by the accident but focused on overall operations, leaving the investigation to the police and the National Transportation Safety Board.

    "We have a responsibility to do whatever we can to improve ferry operations and safety now," Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said.

    At the center of the report's recommendations is the "safety management system," which is already required for international vessels like those in the cruise industry. Washington state's giant ferry system, which has been hailed by many as a model, has had the system in place since 2000, said Kelly J. Mitchell, senior port captain for Washington State Ferries.

    About a month and a half ago, prosecutors on the Staten Island ferry case traveled to Washington to study the state's ferry operations. A former employee of Washington State Ferries who took part in the assessment of the Staten Island ferry told Mr. Mitchell that Washington's ferries were 15 years ahead of New York City's, Mr. Mitchell said yesterday.

    The safety management system essentially lays out job responsibilities, operating procedures and lines of authority, among other aspects, in a systematic fashion. Writing up these manuals is the city's "first and foremost" priority, Ms. Weinshall said yesterday.

    Also high on the list was hiring a chief operations officer. City officials said a search was already under way.

    The report also recommended creating three other new positions: senior port captain, senior port engineer and safety manager. It would also lead to the elimination of several top positions, including that of the director of ferry operations.

    The current director, Patrick Ryan, and several other senior managers have become a focus of the criminal investigation into the accident. Investigators are looking into whether Mr. Ryan passed along operating procedures to employees under him. Ms. Weinshall said the top officials would not be fired but could apply for new jobs in the revamped ferry operation.

    Another major change involves the staffing of the pilothouse. The report recommended that three senior officers with licenses to pilot the vessel be on board at all times, and two must always be in the pilothouse. Currently, only two such officers, the captain and the assistant captain, have to be aboard. According to the city, they are supposed to be in the pilothouse together during docking. The extra officer will act as a roving safety officer, checking procedures, possibly helping with security and also relieving pilots in need of a break.

    A crucial obstacle to implementing the recommendations could be cost. The report, saying that many ferry employees appear to be overworked and constantly harried, called for the hiring of 95 new employees and reducing overtime. City officials estimated that the new hiring would add $3 million to the ferry's $38 million budget. This does not include the costs of other recommendations, like upgrades to navigational equipment.

    "We're going to have to find ways within our budget to pay for this," Mr. Bloomberg said yesterday.

    Lawyers yesterday predicted that the report would become fodder for those suing the city. Lawyers for the city are seeking to limit its liability in the accident, invoking a century-old maritime law that would cap damages at the value of the ferry after repairs. To do so, they must prove that the city was unaware of any negligence.

    "It seems as though that, yes, on the day in question, there may have been human error, but the human error was born out of a society that accepted lax management and had people working too long," said Edward P. Milstein, a lawyer whose firm is representing three ferry victims, including the family of Debra Castro, 39, a passenger who lost both legs and later died. "They're talking about a culture and a climate that existed for a long time."

    Meanwhile, lawyers for Mr. Gansas seized on the report as proof that their client should be exonerated. In late November, the city fired Mr. Ganzas for failing to cooperate with the crash's investigators.

    "It's a document which establishes that no crew member was in violation of any so-called written rule," said William R. Bennett, one of the lawyers representing Mr. Gansas.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  14. #14


    The complete report you can find here as pdf-document (from nynewsday)

  15. #15

Page 1 of 3 123 LastLast

Similar Threads

  1. Governors Island
    By dbhstockton in forum New York City Guide For New Yorkers
    Replies: 519
    Last Post: July 6th, 2016, 09:43 AM
  2. Roosevelt Island Tram
    By Edward in forum New York City Guide For Visitors
    Replies: 31
    Last Post: October 13th, 2013, 03:16 AM
  3. Coney Island
    By Edward in forum New York City Guide For Visitors
    Replies: 78
    Last Post: June 29th, 2011, 01:12 AM
  4. 69th street Ferry - Old pictures
    By BILL in forum New York City Guide For Visitors
    Replies: 8
    Last Post: November 23rd, 2008, 09:33 AM


Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts

Google+ - Facebook - Twitter - Meetup

Edward's photos on Flickr - Wired New York on Flickr - In Queens - In Red Hook - Bryant Park - SQL Backup Software