Accident in 2003 made Staten Island ferry shape up

STATEN ISLAND AND MANHATTAN — The Staten Island ferry moves 65,000 people between Staten Island and Manhattan every weekday, and it does so with practiced efficiency and predictability. It follows a regimented routine for every aspect of its operation.

But it wasn’t always that way. Before a 2003 accident on the Andrew J. Barberi ferry that left 11 dead and 70 injured, the Staten Island ferry’s operations and safety practices left much to be desired, said some regular commuters.

Since that accident, when the person piloting the boat passed out and allowed the boat to ram a maintenance pier on Staten Island, many improvements have been made.

Today there are more crew making rounds on the boat, loudspeaker announcements are regular and clear and inspection officials regularly make appearances, said Tami Kelly, a Staten Island resident who has used the ferry to commute to her job in Manhattan for 15 years.

Without that accident, many unsafe practices, such as a lack of barriers preventing people from falling overboard or an allowance of smoking onboard, might never have changed, said Norman Serafin, a Staten Island resident who has been riding the ferry to work since 1983.

Although the accident highlighted many safety failings in the system, it didn’t cause Staten Islanders to have second thoughts about using one of their most important modes of transportation.

“If you live on Staten Island, this is what you do,” Kelly said. “It’s part of our DNA.”

The 2003 accident spurred the National Transportation Safety Board to make a recommendation that passenger ferries implement a safety management system, which is essentially a checklist of safety and operational items that must be in order for a boat to run safely.

That recommendation was added to the Most Wanted List in February.

Check back later this month for a closer look at what safety management systems could accomplish for the marine industry.

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