San Francisco ferry hits pier, injuring nine; malfunctioning waterjet is blamed

The 119-foot ferry Mare Island crashed into a wooden pier near San Francisco’s busy Fisherman’s Wharf at 1615 on May 6, injuring nine people.

The ferry was backing out of Pier 41 in San Francisco to make the 1610 trip to Vallejo when a steering problem developed, according to Carolyn Horgan, vice president of operations for Blue and Gold Fleet, which operates the Vallejo service.

The vessel, carrying 142 passengers, crashed into the abandoned Pier 43 next to Pier 41. The vessel’s bow struck the pier once, straight on, according to Pat Murphy, operations manager for Blue and Gold Fleet.

The captain was backing out, and as he went to turn the vessel around, the port waterjet unit became stuck in the forward position, according to Murphy. After the ferry struck, the captain held it against the pier, waiting for a tug to bring it back to its berth.

Mare Island, a 549-gross ton catamaran, has diesel engines powering two waterjets that provide both propulsion and steering.

“We believe there could be a faulty part that affects the steering,” Horgan said. “It’s a cable that is part of the jet-propulsion system.”

Dakota Creek Industries of Anacortes, Wash., built the vessel in 1997, she said.
The captain warned passengers over the loudspeaker, telling them to “hang on and sit down,” said Horgan. Nine passengers were taken to local hospitals where they were treated for minor injuries and released. Horgan talked to five of the passengers “and it seemed like they were doing well.”

Results of mandatory drug and alcohol tests of the crew were not yet available, according to Lt. John Fu, U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Francisco, who is investigating the incident. He would not comment on the cause of the casualty. “It could be a mechanical failure, it could be human error or it could be a combination of both,” Fu said. The captain has been with the Blue and Gold Fleet for 10 years, according to Horgan.

The Coast Guard has prohibited Mare Island from carrying any passengers until it has been repaired and inspected. If the cause of the accident was mechanical failure, Fu said the Coast Guard wants to make sure the problem is limited to this vessel. “If there is any indication that this may be a systemic problem with other ferries, we’ll take action,” he said. As of mid-June no evidence of a similar problem with other vessels had been found.

The ferry suffered minor damage — a small dent and some scraped paint. Horgan expected the vessel to be repaired within a week after the incident. No fuel was released into the bay as a result of the casualty.

By Professional Mariner Staff