Atlantic Highlands ferry ran aground

A high-speed catamaran ferry experienced an unspecified mechanical issue in New York City’s East River before it ran aground and began taking on water neared the end of its scheduled run to New York from Atlantic Highlands, N.J.

The 150-foot Seastreak Commodore had 118 passengers and seven crew on board when it grounded in Bushwick Inlet in Brooklyn on June 5, 2021 at about 4:15 p.m. 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 team effort between the Coast Guard and our local first responders including FDNY and NYPD harbor units allowed for the safe evacuation of all passengers,” said Capt. Zeita Merchant, commander of Coast Guard Sector New York. “The Coast Guard will now work with Seastreak on the investigation and inspection of the vessel to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.”

“It was a very smooth operation that just at the two-hour mark went under control,” said FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief Michael Gala from the scene. “We have a continuing de-watering operation. The vessel is taking on water and with the multiple agency effort including the @uscgnortheast, we are winning the battle to de-water the vessel. The salvage company is on the way, they should be here shortly, and they will determine the best and safest way to remove the vessel. One thing I can say on this hot afternoon, there were no injuries except for one member of the crew who has been removed to NYU hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.”

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.

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