By Paul Liotta | email@example.com Updated: Dec. 29, 2022, 1:59 p.m. | Published: Dec. 29, 2022, 12:25 p.m.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — A Staten Island Ferry fire last week has prompted a group of New York City Council members to call for a full investigation into the newest class of boats.
The Staten Island delegation — Minority Leader Joe Borelli (R-South Shore), Councilwoman Kamillah Hanks (D-North Shore) and Councilman David Carr (R-Mid-Island) — and City Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers (D-Queens), chair of the Council’s Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, sent a letter to city Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez to call for a full investigation into the Ollis Class of ferries.
“[In] light of the incident that took place on Thursday, December 22, on the Sandy Ground Ferry, we are officially requesting a thorough investigation of all of the Ollis Class ferries…to ensure there are no systemic flaws with these vessels that could potentially precipitate a disaster,” the group wrote. “I am sure you agree that it is of the utmost important that we learn all we can from this occurrence to ensure the safety of all future passengers.”
City officials have said that the Coast Guard has assured them that the Sandy Ground fire isn’t a cause for concern with the rest of the new ferries, and the SSG Michael H Ollis remains in service.
The Dorothy Day, the third of the three new boats, arrived in New York Harbor in September, but the Department of Transportation (DOT), the city agency Rodriguez oversees, has yet to say when it will be in service.
Part of the council members’ letter thanked DOT staff for their quick response to the Sandy Ground fire, for which a department spokesperson thanked them on Thursday. The spokesperson didn’t say whether the DOT would meet the council members’ call for a thorough investigation of the new 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,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.
Investigators gained access to the area of the boat damaged in the fire on Friday, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Logan Kaczmarek, a Coast Guard spokesperson, said Tuesday that their initial investigation determined that a fuel leak sparked an engine fire on the boat.
Photos exclusively obtained by the Advance/SILive.com show blackened equipment in the engine room of the Sandy Ground.
DOT officials have not said what the extent of the damage is to the Sandy Ground, or when they expect it to be back in service.
MASSIVE EMERGENCY RESPONSE TO FIRE
During the evening rush hour commute on Dec. 22, a fire broke out in the engine room onboard the new Sandy Ground Staten Island Ferry vessel, which was just placed in service in June after arriving in the harbor last New Year’s Eve.
The incident prompted a massive emergency response, with tugboats and smaller NYC Ferry vessels being used to evacuate hundreds of passengers from the smoke-filled vessel.
Five people were injured during the incident and ambulances transported three to the hospital. A DOT spokesperson said the agency believed those injuries to be minor.
At least five NYPD Harbor vessels and the Coast Guard responded to the incident. The NYPD Harbor unit requested all ferries and tugboats in the area respond to help evacuate the passengers, while two NYPD officers on the ferry helped distribute lifejackets.
On Friday, Roland Rexha — the secretary treasurer for the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA), the union that represents the captains, assistant captains, mates, chief engineers and marine engineers on the Staten Island Ferry — told the Advance/SILive.com that staffers onboard the boat also said the fire was the result of a fuel leak.
“First, there was a fuel leak. Then the fire was caused by the fuel leak, which was ignited off a hot engine. That’s what the fire was. I don’t know what caused the fuel leak. That’s still under investigation,” Rexha said.
“Once it ignited, the engineers on scene tried mitigating the fuel leak, but once they realized they couldn’t stop it, they shut the fuel off,” he added.