NYC Council members question safety of new SI Ferries after fire broke out on new ship


New York City Council members plan to hold a public hearing on the Staten Island Ferry fire that left roughly 850 passengers stranded in New York Harbor last month.

During a Thursday appearance on WNYC’s All Things Considered, Staten Island Councilmember David Carr said he plans to bring in Department of Transportation officials to answer questions about the Dec. 22 blaze, which broke out in the ship’s engine room during a Staten Island-bound trip. The fire forced the ship to anchor near Bayonne, New Jersey.

The incident is under investigation by the Coast Guard.

Carr accused DOT officials of failing to disclose details about the fire — and said he was concerned because the fire broke out on the Sandy Ground, one of the Staten Island Ferry’s newest ships. The vessel cost $85 million and entered service last year.

“A ‘no, everything’s fine, we don’t need to provide any accountability on our part for our decisions’ — that’s a non-starter,” said Carr. “We’re a Council, we’re a legislative body, we have a legitimate reason to exercise our oversight authority here and we absolutely will.”

Councilmembers have not set a date for the hearing.

A week after the fire, Staten Island’s three City Council members along with Transportation Committee chair Selvena Brooks-Powers urged the DOT to launch a full investigation into city’s three newest ferries. The group in a letter demanded the probe “to ensure there are no systemic flaws with these vessels that could potentially precipitate a disaster.”

The Sandy Ground is one of the three new “Ollis Class” ferries. The other two are the SSG Michael Ollis and the Dorothy Day.

The Sandy Ground began service in June, while the Michael Ollis made its inaugural journey in February and is still in service, according to the DOT. The Dorothy Day has not entered service.

DOT spokesperson Mona Bruno said the Sandy Ground fire is not a cause for concern for the other Ollis Class ferries.

“Safety is DOT’s top priority, and we are following all protocols as we work closely with the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board on the investigation,” said Bruno.

The Coast Guard’s investigation of the fire could take months or years to complete, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Logan Kaczmarek, a spokesperson for the Coast Guard.

Carr said he wants to know the training crew members go through on a regular basis, as well as the mechanics of the new ships.

The Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association – the union that represents much of the Staten Island ferry crew – said they were also concerned about the new Ollis ferries and claimed the DOT had failed to properly train the crew on the new fleet.


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