New York A Staten Island ferry with a history of accidents, including a fatal wreck in 2003, malfunctioned as it approached its terminal Saturday and smashed into a pier with a jolt that tossed passengers to the deck and hurt as many as 37 people.
The accident happened around 9:20 a.m. as the Andrew J. Barberi arrived at the St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island, carrying 252 passengers and 18 crew.
Passenger Jason Watler, 30, of St. George, said he became alarmed when the ferry approached the shore faster than usual and ran toward the back of the boat.
“It was not slowing down,” he said. “He was going too fast.”
Then, he heard a “a real big boom.”
“I stumbled a little bit,” he said. “People were screaming. People were crying.”
The accident appeared to be the result of a mechanical failure, New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said.
The ferry’s throttle failed to engage as it prepared to dock, she said, meaning the crew was unable to use the engines to apply reverse thrust and slow down. The cause of the malfunction is still unknown, she said. The approximately 3,000-ton, 310-foot-long ferry was moving at about 5 knots, or 5.8 miles per hour, when it hit.
Coast Guard officials said the ferry suffered serious damage to its ramps and gouges in the decks above the waterline. Ramps on the pier were also damaged. The Department of Transportation described the damage to the vessel and terminal and slip as minor and said the Barberi would be taken out of service.
Fire Department spokesman James Long said a total of 37 passengers were treated. He said 35 were taken to hospitals, but none had life-threatening injuries. Of those, 34 were treated and released and one remained hospitalized for further evaluation, Long said.
Two police officers providing ferry security were among the injured, officials said, but no crew members were hurt.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it had dispatched a team to investigate the ferry accident.
The Andrew Barberi was also involved in a 2003 wreck that killed 11 people. That accident occurred when the pilot, suffering from extreme fatigue and on painkillers, passed out at the wheel and the boat hit the terminal in St. George at full speed. The ferry returned to service after a multimillion-dollar rehabilitation.
The pilot pleaded guilty to negligent manslaughter and lying to investigators. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison. The city ferry director was sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty to negligent manslaughter and admitting he failed to implement or enforce a rule requiring two pilots during docking.