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June 18, 2010

NTSB issues update on Staten Island ferry investigation

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued an update on its investigation of the May 8 accident involving the Staten Island ferry Andrew J. Barberi. It notes that certain propulsion control components on one of the ferry's propulsion unit were identified as possibly defective.

The ferry departed Whitehall Ferry Terminal in lower Manhattan for its regularly scheduled voyage to St. George's Ferry Terminal, Staten Island. At approximately, 9:19 a.m. (EDT), the vessel struck the boarding apron and transition bridge on slip No. 5 of the pier on Staten Island. At the time of the accident, there were 18 crew members, two New York City police officers, two concessionaires and 244 passengers on the ferry. Forty-eight persons reported minor injuries.

The NTSB sent a team to Staten Island on May 8 and completed its on- scene investigation on Saturday, May 15. Below is an update on the Safety Board's ongoing investigation.

The last U.S. Coast Guard inspection on the vessel was its quarterly inspection on April 15, 2010.

Drug and alcohol tests of the crew were negative for alcohol and illegal drugs.

Investigators visited the Coast Guard's Vessel Traffic Service and obtained a copy of the vessel track line. The track line shows the Andrew J. Barberi abeam of the KV buoy with a Course over Ground (COG) of 230 degrees and a Speed over Ground (SOG) of approximately 16 knots. From the midpoint of the KV buoy to the entrance to slip No. 5, the vessel has a COG of 227 degrees and a SOG of about 14 knots.

A preliminary review of the pilot-house close-circuit television (CCTV) video of the entire transit from Whitehall to St. George indicates the voyage was uneventful until the approach to slip No. 5. At that time the video shows crew members taking actions consistent with attempting to slow the vessel prior to entering the slip.

Investigators interviewed the deckhand at slip No. 5 who operated the transition bridge, which allows passengers to embark and disembark from the vessel to the terminal. According to the deckhand, he noticed the speed of the ferry was faster than usual as it entered the slip. As a result, he positioned the transition bridge to align with the main deck (which is also performed in a normal docking), believing this action would lessen the damage to the ferry and injury to passengers. Both the interview and preliminary review of the CCTV video indicate he was at the operator station and aligned the bridge to the main deck of the vessel prior to the accident.

The Emergency Preparedness and Response Group has interviewed eight passengers, one police officer, and five New York DOT employees. The Andrew Barberi video shows passengers jostled in their seats and some standing passengers falling to the deck during the accident. Some of the passengers stated that there may have been more injuries if it had not been drizzling as the ferry neared St. George; instead of standing outside near the Staten Island end of the vessel in preparation for disembarking, many passengers remained inside the vessel.

Some of the injured passengers stated they heard a warning over the public address system just before the accident, while others did not recall hearing a warning.

The Engineering Group interviewed 10 persons, including all the engineering crew on watch at the time of the accident and several port engineers.

At the time of the accident the Chief Engineer was on duty in the engine control room below decks. He was first aware of a problem when he heard the engine audible pitch increase. He looked at the CCTV and noticed the vessel was in the slip and moving too fast. He instructed the engine crew in the engine control room to brace for impact.

The vessel is a "double-ender", symmetric about the midpoint with pilot houses located at each end (named Staten Island and New York ends). The named ends in the forward or bow of the vessel during transit to the respective dock location. At the time of the accident the crew was controlling the vessel from the Staten Island end pilot house.

The vessel is propelled by cycloidal propulsion units, one mounted at each end of the vessel (two diesel engines are coupled to drive each propulsion unit). The two diesel engines driving the Staten Island end propulsion unit stopped at the time of or immediately following the collision. The engines were not stopped manually by the crew. The New York end cycloidal propulsion unit was still being driven and operating at 50 to 60 percentahead thrust after the accident.

Preliminary results of post accident testing of the Staten Island and New York end propulsion systems indicated that the Staten Island end propulsion unit operated satisfactorily, while the New York end propulsion unit was not responding properly to commands from the Staten Island end wheelhouse. Following a propulsion control system assessment, the investigation team was able to replicate the control issue on the New York end propulsion unit. Certain propulsion control components on the New York end propulsion unit were identified as possibly defective and replaced. After replacement, preliminary dockside testing showed the propulsion unit to be working properly. Investigators sent the removed propulsion control components and oil samples to NTSB headquarters for further analysis.

Following structural and mechanical repairs to the propulsion system, multiple sea trials have been conducted under the regulatory oversight of the Coast Guard and American Bureau of Shipping, a classification society that is responsible for development and verification of standards for the design, construction and operational maintenance of marine vessels.

Investigators from the NTSB also attended the initial sea trial in early June.


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