Valve blamed for 2010 Staten Island Ferry crash

Photo of damaged ferry taken Sunday, May 9, 2010 by Raymond Pape of Staten Island

April 24, 2012 3:11:13 PM PDT
The National Transportation Safety Board says a faulty valve caused a Staten Island ferry accident that injured several people and caused minor damage two years ago.

The board met Tuesday in Washington to discuss the May 8, 2010, accident.

NTSB investigators determined that one of the ferry's propellers was stuck because of a jammed valve. They praised crew members, police and firefighters for their response to the emergency.

In 2003, the same ferry crashed when its pilot passed out at the wheel. Eleven people died. When the Andrew Barberi slammed into a pier in 2010, 37 people were injured, but no one died.

The Eyewitness News Investigators uncovered problems with the propulsion system two years before the accident, but New York City denied it was a serious issue. Now, the city is asking for millions in emergency funds to fix the safety concerns in the rest of its fleet.

Ever since, the city spent more than $120 million dollars for 3 new ferry boats, the Department of Transportation has been making excuses for their repeated mechanical break downs.

"There hasn't been a ship built that hasn't gone through these type of teething problems," Capt. James DiSimone of the Department of Transportation said.

Back in 2007, we first reported on how the three new boats were often out of service because of problems with the ships generators and drive systems. Still, the Director of the ferry boats for the city refused to acknowledge the seriousness of the problem:

"I'm happy with the way things are working out, this is nothing out of the norm," Capt. DiSimone said.

Flash ahead five years almost to the day, the DOT sends an urgent letter to the City Comptroller seeking millions in "emergency (money) procurement to fix the boats." A DOT official writes that "at any time one of these boats could sustain a drive failure which could result in the boat being left without power... as it approaches the ferry slips or other boats in the harbor."

"It sounds to me like a stunning admission of a failure," Robert Warren, Maritime Engineer/Architect, said.

Warren says the D-O-T is rolling the dice with passenger safety by allowing two of the three troubled boats to continue carrying thousands of passengers daily before being fixed.

"No question about it being dangerous. You don't have an answer as to when such a problem might occur and I would hope that there would be some type of fall back or contingency plan in place. You're operating in a busy harbor," Warren said.

In 2009, a break down in the drive system caused the Markey to lose power and slam into the pier injuring 15 passengers. That boat is now in dry dock awaiting a new drive system. The city Comptroller has approved more than $3-million dollars for the repair. DOT is asking for $6 million more in emergency funds to fix the other two boats.

"We are not going to give a blank check just to satiate their needs for a quick fix. We need to understand what they are trying to achieve and whether in fact the plan has a high likelihood of achieving," Comptroller John Liu said.

NTSB staff members said on Tuesday that the Barberi was not equipped with an alarm system that might have warned crew members that the propeller was stuck and was not responding to controls. The board recommended that passenger vessels with similar propulsion systems be equipped with such alarms.

The board also recommended that passenger vessels implement safety management systems such as the one that was in place at the Staten Island Ferry in 2010.

The US Coast Guard says the Staten Island Ferry boats all hold certificates of inspection and that they are in compliance with safety protocols.

The DOT insists the boats are safe and that the three newer boats were out of service less than 10-percent of the time last year.

Some information from The Associated Press

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