Staten Island ferry loses power, injuring 17 during hard landing

A Staten Island ferry slammed into its slip after all of its motor-drive transformers failed and the vessel lost propulsion. About 17 people were injured.

The accident happened at 1910 on July 1 as Sen. John J. Marchi was landing at Staten Island's St. George terminal. The 310-foot Marchi was one vessel length away from the slip when one of its four motor drives shut down, said Capt. James DeSimone, the Staten Island Ferry's chief operating officer.

Almost immediately, the remaining three drives failed too, leaving the captain with no propulsion just as he was about to dock.

New York City police and fire responders confer at the site of the Staten Island Ferry accident July 1 at the St. George terminal.

"We know that a transformer failed, and it caused one of the four drives to power down," DeSimone said. "But then the other three drives powered down, and that should not have happened."

The captain warned the crew and passengers and steered the ferry into wood pilings in an attempt to cushion the hard landing. Marchi then slammed into the dock, smashing part of a ramp.

The mates and deck hands had just enough time to order people off the weather decks and away from the bow and stairways, DeSimone said. Still, 17 people received minor injuries, including three crew and one police officer, according to reports to the New York Police Department and U.S. Coast Guard. The most serious injury was a dislocated elbow.

The hard landing is the most serious incident involving Staten Island Ferry's operations since the 2003 Andrew J. Barberi disaster. Eleven people were killed and 70 were injured when Barberi crashed into its dock after the operator passed out at the helm.

The New York City Department of Transportation's double-ended ferries are designed to operate effectively even if one transformer fails. The other motor drives are suppose to run independently, said Lt. Joseph Johnson, the Coast Guard's lead investigator on the case.

"These ferries are built with this redundancy," Johnson said. "You can lose one transformer, and they can still work well with the other three."

Johnson said Marchi had one similar incident in the past, but the vessel was in open water. The crew had time to power the motors back up without incident. "In this case, they didn't have time to shut them down and restart them," he said.

Following the July 1 incident, the 3,200-gross-ton Marchi was taken out of service. DeSimone said technicians from the systems' manufacturers in mid-July were still troubleshooting the cause of the cascading transformer failure.

{C}Fire and rescue personel cart away some of the injured.

"They're looking at the software," DeSimone said. "They're looking at the plant-management system. They're looking at a lot of issues."

Sometimes earlier human error can be a cause of such accidents. In June 2008, the containership Rio Haina lost power and smashed into the Miami Beach Marina. Coast Guard investigators said that accident happened after a single fuse blew between a generator and the switchboard. Unfortunately, all of the system's other fuses blew because they were improperly interconnected instead of being wired independent of each other.

Marchi is one of the Staten Island Ferry's three Centennial C boats, built in 2003-04 by Marinette Marine of Wisconsin. The others are Guy V. Molinari and Spirit of America. DeSimone said neither the Coast Guard nor the American Bureau of Shipping ordered inspections of those two vessels as a result of the Marchi incident.

Johnson said that could happen after a cause is determined.

"We're obviously concerned, because they have very similar engineering plants," Johnson said of the other two vessels.

DeSimone said Marchi had only some paint damage on its bow. Johnson said a deck hand on the dock prevented more serious damage to the equipment. After the captain sounded five short horn blasts, the deck hand lowered the landing ramp to ensure that it lined up with the U-shaped rub rail on the bow, instead of slicing into steel. The deck hand's workstation is only about 10 feet away from the area of impact.

"He was very brave," Johnson said. "He saw it coming in fast, and he just lowered it and he braced himself."

Dom Yanchunas

By Professional Mariner Staff