Crewmember hurt when N.J. ferry grounds in East River

A high-speed catamaran ferry experienced an unspecified mechanical issue in New York City’s East River before running aground in a Brooklyn inlet.

The 150-foot Seastreak Commodore had 118 passengers and seven crew on board when it grounded in Bushwick Inlet in Brooklyn on June 5 at about 1615. One crewmember was taken to a hospital for observation. No passengers were hurt, and no pollution was reported.

Ferry operator Seastreak said in a statement that the aluminum catamaran “experienced a mechanical issue that caused the vessel to lose engine power and steering” several miles short of the East 34th Street terminal in Manhattan. 

The captain appears to have directed Commodore to “drift into Bushwick Inlet on the Brooklyn side of the East River and [come] to rest along the shore,” Seastreak said. 

The incident happened on a bright, sunny day in New York as Seastreak Commodore neared the end of its scheduled run to New York from Atlantic Highlands, N.J. A small crowd gathered near Bushwick Inlet, the future home of the USS Monitor Museum, to observe an oyster monitoring event when the ferry decelerated and turned into the narrow inlet. 

George Weinmann, who was sitting nearby, recalled waving his arms and attempting to warn the captain out of the shallow Inlet. His wife, Janice, called 911 and took video as the ferry powered through the 90-foot-wide midpoint of the inlet and came ashore near a ramp on the inner south side, striking obstacles as it did so. “Only the portside jet was propelling the boat,” the couple told Professional Mariner.  

The ferry’s captain, who was not identified, alerted passengers of the impending impact. Prior to grounding, he used the ferry’s public address system to warn passengers several times to sit down and brace for impact, Seastreak spokesman Tom Wynne said. 

The ferry began listing to port after it came to a stop. The grounding drew more onlookers. One was Rob Buchanan, an oyster monitor who had been in the inlet only a short time before the ferry incident.  

Working with a local group called Billion Oyster Project, he had used a canoe to check on an eco-dock supporting oyster reef structures. After stowing the canoe upriver, he heard the commotion and returned to the inlet, where he saw the oyster dock had overturned as the ferry came in.

Multiple agencies responded to the damaged ferry. Three Coast Guard boat crews began rescue efforts with the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) and New York City Police Department (NYPD), the Coast Guard said. 

FDNY and NYPD responders reached the stricken ferry within four minutes, the fire department said. On social media, the FDNY described a “well-coordinated operation by multiple Fire Department Marine units and NYPD Harbor launches” to remove passengers and take them to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  

Emergency responders initiated de-watering operations in the damaged portside hull after the passengers disembarked. According to Wynne, the Seastreak spokesman, a salvage diver patched an 8- to 10-inch hole in the portside hull below the waterline. Later, Commodore was refloated and taken to a local shipyard where it was removed from the water for permanent repairs. 

The incident remains under investigation by the Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board. Neither has released details about the nature of the mechanical problem, or the cause of the grounding. 

Seastreak officials praised emergency responders for their quick arrival and the speed with which they disembarked passengers from the damaged ferry. A timeline for the vessel’s return to service was not available.

By Professional Mariner Staff