By Bill Parry
A Queens lawmaker is calling on the city to develop a better system for rescuing passengers aboard city ferries that are stranded on waterways.
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) demanded action Thursday after a NYC Ferry collided with a sandbar off the Rockaways Wednesday evening, leaving dozens of passengers on board in sub-freezing temperatures before help could arrive.
“We are glad that no one was seriously injured during this incident. However, the city needs to seriously improve their response time in situations like this, where 27 people were stuck out on the water in sub-freezing conditions for hours before rescue boats could arrive.”
The 140-foot vessel, named the Flyer, departed Rockaway at 5:15 p.m. and was heading to Wall Street when it went off course and became grounded on a sandbar near Beach 201st Street and Rockaway Point Boulevard in Breezy Point, according to investigators. It was the second ferry in a month on the Rockaway route that ran aground, requiring passengers to be rescued.
“I am demanding real answers from the contractor as to why this happened,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters Wednesday. “It makes no sense to me. These are routes that are well-known. The information is there about where there might be any problems along the routes that they have to move around.”
NYC Ferry operator Hornblower has suspended the captains of both vessels and promised to reimburse the stranded passengers aboard the Flyer with year-round NYC Ferry passes.
“First and foremost, our focus is always on the safety of our riders, and we truly appreciate the support of the USCG, FDNY and NYPD for their assistance with safely transporting our riders off of the vessel,” Hornblower Senior Vice President Cameron Clark said in a statement.
During the rescue operation, the stranded passengers were moved from the Flyer to a small fireboat and moved on to other boats that were part of the rescue effort, according to FDNY Chief of Special Operations John Esposito.
“It was difficult because they had to climb down a 12-foot ladder, down the back of the ferry, onto our boat, then transfer onto several different boats,” Esposito said in a statement. “It was a very slow, tedious, time-consuming operation, with safety in mind.”
It took six hours before the rescued passengers were taken ashore at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. Addabbo has hailed the NYC Ferry route for helping Rockaway experience an economic rebound this past summer, but he was critical of the de Blasio administration’s choice of San Francisco-based Hornblower as the operator back in March 2016, saying “we must make certain they run this service adequately.”
“This is the second time since Nov. 27 that a NYC Ferry boat crashed into a submerged object, and measures need to be taken to prevent accidents like this from occurring if people are expected to trust and use the city’s ferry system. The city has been lucky that over the recent incidents on the ferry nobody was seriously injured. I’m hopeful that improved safety measures can be implemented before the city’s luck runs out.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr