How Safe Are U.S. Ferries?

Major accidents, like the one in South Korea, are unpredictable — and can be unavoidable.

Buildings on the Manhattan (right) and Jersey City skyline are seen from the Staten Island Ferry in June 2013.
National Journal
Marina Koren
April 16, 2014, 7:45 a.m.

Al­most 300 people are miss­ing off the coast of South Korea after a ferry there, car­ry­ing mostly school­chil­dren, cap­sized and sank. About 164 people have been pulled from the wreck­age, and the race to find sur­viv­ors is well un­der­way.

No one ever ex­pects a dis­aster, but this one has es­pe­cially stunned people. Pas­sen­gers say they heard a loud thud, which sug­gests the ves­sel col­lided with something, but it’s too early to tell. “This par­tic­u­lar ferry was built in Ja­pan, who make some of the best ships in the world. It wasn’t any­where near full and it was trav­el­ling a well-worn route in reas­on­ably calm seas,” the BBC’s Richard West­cott ex­plains. “The speed with which it flipped over and sank is a ma­jor con­cern.”

So if con­di­tions were near-per­fect for a smooth jour­ney, what happened? And could the same hap­pen in U.S. wa­ters?

The Amer­ic­an ferry in­dustry, which car­ries tens of mil­lions of people each year, has a good safety re­cord. It’s also heav­ily reg­u­lated by the U.S. Coast Guard and state gov­ern­ment­al agen­cies, from ves­sel design and con­struc­tion to re­pair and in­spec­tion. In a typ­ic­al year, private ferry-re­lated deaths are in the single di­gits, ac­cord­ing to the Pas­sen­ger Ves­sel As­so­ci­ation.

Still, some are wor­ried about ferry in­fra­struc­ture. An an­onym­ous cap­tain for the Staten Is­land Ferry re­cently told the New York Post that the eight boats that carry 60 mil­lion people to and from Man­hat­tan are “ill-de­signed, poorly main­tained safety haz­ards.”

“I don’t un­der­stand how the Coast Guard al­lows these boats to go out some­times,” he con­tin­ued. “They really do put people at risk. If this were a private com­pany, the Coast Guard would be all over them.”

In 2010, a ferry­boat car­ry­ing 244 people crashed in­to the St. George Ter­min­al on Staten Is­land after an elec­tric­al mal­func­tion took out its pro­pellers, in­jur­ing 50 pas­sen­gers.

The Coast Guard re­buked the un­named cap­tain’s claims. The Staten Is­land Ferry’s op­er­at­or, New York City’s De­part­ment of Trans­port­a­tion, “has been re­cog­nized as hav­ing an ag­gress­ive, pro-act­ive safety pro­gram,” the agency said. The Coast Guard con­ducts safety in­spec­tions of the ferry four times a year.

The bleak real­ity, however, is that no num­ber of in­spec­tions can ever pre­vent mari­time ac­ci­dents, in South Korea or in the U.S., es­pe­cially when ex­tern­al factors are in­volved. “It doesn’t mat­ter how well built the ship is,” BBC’s West­cott writes, “col­li­sions can sink ves­sels very quickly.”

What We're Following See More »
PROCEDURES NOT FOLLOWED
Trump Not on Ballot in Minnesota
2 days ago
THE LATEST
MOB RULE?
Trump on Immigration: ‘I Don’t Know, You Tell Me’
2 days ago
THE LATEST

Perhaps Donald Trump can take a plebiscite to solve this whole messy immigration thing. At a Fox News town hall with Sean Hannity last night, Trump essentially admitted he's "stumped," turning to the audience and asking: “Can we go through a process or do you think they have to get out? Tell me, I mean, I don’t know, you tell me.”

Source:
BIG CHANGE FROM WHEN HE SELF-FINANCED
Trump Enriching His Businesses with Donor Money
4 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Donald Trump "nearly quintupled the monthly rent his presidential campaign pays for its headquarters at Trump Tower to $169,758 in July, when he was raising funds from donors, compared with March, when he was self-funding his campaign." A campaign spokesman "said the increased office space was needed to accommodate an anticipated increase in employees," but the campaign's paid staff has actually dipped by about 25 since March. The campaign has also paid his golf courses and restaurants about $260,000 since mid-May.

Source:
QUESTIONS OVER IMMIGRATION POLICY
Trump Cancels Rallies
4 days ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump probably isn't taking seriously John Oliver's suggestion that he quit the race. But he has canceled or rescheduled rallies amid questions over his stance on immigration. Trump rescheduled a speech on the topic that he was set to give later this week. Plus, he's also nixed planned rallies in Oregon and Las Vegas this month.

Source:
‘STRATEGY AND MESSAGING’
Sean Hannity Is Also Advising Trump
5 days ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump's Fox News brain trust keeps growing. After it was revealed that former Fox chief Roger Ailes is informally advising Trump on debate preparation, host Sean Hannity admitted over the weekend that he's also advising Trump on "strategy and messaging." He told the New York Times: “I’m not hiding the fact that I want Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States. I never claimed to be a journalist.”

Source:
×