Coast Guard idles 24 NY Waterway ferries for damage, deficiencies


The U.S. Coast Guard ordered two dozen NY Waterway ferries out of service in late November and December because of maintenance deficiencies.

Sector New York took the action and increased the frequency of inspections after finding problems with unreported collision damage, improperly maintained fire and dewatering systems, expired lifesaving equipment and other issues.

As of mid-December, when a 24th vessel was ordered out of service, six ferries were still not allowed to operate, according to Cmdr. Jake Hobson, chief of inspection for Sector New York.

“The safety of the passengers that ride these ferries is our top priority,” said Capt. Jason Tama, commander of Sector New York. “We expect passenger vessels to be in compliance with safety standards and ready for inspection at all times. We know many people rely on these ferries for their daily commutes, and we will continue to work with NY Waterway to ensure sustained compliance with Coast Guard safety requirements. As part of this effort, we will be increasing both scheduled and unannounced inspections of their fleet moving forward.”

NY Waterway, which operates 32 ferries in the New York area, declined to comment on the Coast Guard action.

Hobson said the decision to remove 23 ferries from service the week before Thanksgiving followed a series of interactions with the company.

“We’ve actually had the NY Waterway management in a couple times over the late summer and early fall,” he said. “As we had been noticing on our annual routine inspections, there was quite a spike in the number of issues. Some of the issues we were finding were severe.”

Hobson said the Coast Guard brought in the company’s management in late July and continued to conduct inspections.

“(Inspectors found) fairly significant deficiencies on the boats. Typically when we go out on an inspection, it is not irregular for us to have two or three items that we have to write up that we potentially have to go back or get more documentation on to ensure the vessel is in full compliance,” he said. “But when we start to go out and start writing a dozen, 15 or 18 deficiencies on an annual inspection after the operator called us and said the boat is ready for the annual inspection, that starts to concern me.”

There are two scopes of inspection. One is a certificate of inspection (COI) examination done once or twice in a five-year period. “That’s a very deep dive where we’re looking at everything (including) the clips that are holding the wires in the engine room. We spend a day on the boat. We also do an annual inspection where we are there basically to verify that the maintenance is in compliance and they’re not having any issues that we can see.”

The Coast Guard also checks the crew’s ability to conduct fire drills and man-overboard drills, and that the vessel can operate properly underway. An out-of-water hull inspection is conducted at least every two years.

Structural damage and lack of maintenance on firefighting and dewatering systems were the most serious problems uncovered in the recent NY Waterway action, Hobson said.

“We found damage on vessels that were in service that had not been reported to the Coast Guard in two cases,” he said, adding that it was likely caused by hitting a dock. “It’s never flat calm in New York Harbor and they’re docking and undocking and doing many maneuvers, so it’s not unheard of for a vessel to careen up against the pier and have a 2- or 3-foot wake come in from another vessel and cause damage. But then we would expect the boat to be removed for service and a report and follow-up to ensure that the work was done properly to get the boat back in service.”

Hobson said in mid-December that all of the structural damage had been repaired, but inspection of other vessels was continuing. Another ferry was taken out of service that month for the same problems.

“We want to make sure that they are being maintained safely. They’ve kind of let things slide a little bit from a maintenance perspective,” Hobson said. “It’s not something that we never see on other boats.”

He said the frequency of inspections would be increased for all 200 ferries operated by nine companies in the New York area.

“We haven’t had this kind of systemic problem with the other companies,” Hobson said. “We trace it back to improper implementation of a safety management system.”

The Coast Guard has met several times with NY Waterway officials on development of an improved management system. Hobson said there has not been a similar problem with other ferry companies in other cities.

“We’re not seeing it as a Coast Guard-wide issue,” he said.

The region’s ferry operators carry tens of millions of passengers annually, making it one of the busiest ferry networks in the world.

By Professional Mariner Staff