NYC Ferry gets stuck on sandbar near Rockaways in freezing weather with 27 on board, FDNY says

An NYC Ferry that got stuck after running into a sandbar off the Rockaways Wednesday night was not on its planned route when it ran aground, according to operator Hornblower.

It’s the second NYC Ferry in a month to require a rescue; in late November, more than 100 riders had to be saved when their boat ran aground in the East River.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he’s “demanding real answers” about the incidents.

The pilots of both boats have been pulled from service, de Blasio said Thursday at an unrelated news conference. He blamed each incident on “human error,” according to preliminary information that he’s received.

An investigation into Wednesday’s incident continues, as officials attempt to determine how the ferry carrying 27 people wound up on the sandbar in the area of Rockaway Point Boulevard and Beach 201st Street near Breezy Point around 6 p.m. The ferry had departed Rockaway at 5:15 p.m. and it took several hours to get everyone onto land.

“First and foremost, our focus is always on the safety of our riders, and we truly appreciate the support of the U.S. Coast Guard, FDNY and NYPD for their assistance with safely transporting our riders off of the vessel last night,” Cameron Clark, senior vice president of NYC Ferry operated by Hornblower, said. “While preliminary information indicates the vessel was off route, that’s something investigators will look at during the investigation.”

According to FDNY Chief of Special Operations John Esposito, the rescue operation involved moving the passengers from the ferry onto a small fireboat, then onto a medium boat before they were able to board a 140-foot fireboat that took them to shore.

“It was difficult because they had to climb down a 12’ straight ladder, down the back of the ferry, onto our boat, then transferred onto several different boats, Esposito said in a statement. “It was a very slow, tedious, time-consuming operation, with safety in mind.”

For their trouble, the passengers will receive a yearly NYC Ferry pass, a dinner and movie package at iPic Theatre in the South Street Seaport and a $50 Uber credit, according to the ferry operator. Several people aboard who had tickets to Wednesday’s Rangers game at Madison Square Garden will also be reimbursed the value of their tickets and NYC Ferry will book them for a future game.

“It’s not [an] acceptable situation in a sense that it was totally avoidable … shouldn’t’ have happened, [it’s] not satisfying or acceptable to me at all and we’re going to take action,” de Blasio said, adding that he would be looking at Hornblower for an explanation.

“I am demanding real answers from the contractor as to why this happened,” the mayor continued. “It makes no sense to me. These are routes that are well known. The information is there about where there might be any problems along the routes that they have to move around.”

Wednesday’s grounding was the latest issue for a taxpayer-subsidized service that de Blasio and other city officials hailed as a reliable alternative to subway service – despite that the subway system carries the same amount of people in one day that NYC Ferry carries in a year.

In November, six NYC Ferry boats were taken out of service for repairs and inspections after three of the vessels were found to have misaligned keel coolers that caused corrosion on their front hulls. The city agency overseeing service, the Economic Development Corporation, described the issues as “minor” and assured that taxpayer funding wouldn’t be used for the repairs.

Unexpected ridership demand has also caused problems for the city. The 150-capacity boats proved insufficient in summer months, when long lines formed after riders on popular routes were turned away from packed boats. Hornblower has had to charter between two and three additional boats to meet demands. Eventually, the city modified its boat order to build three larger, 350-capcity boats for service next year at the cost of $7 million apiece.

Despite the issues, de Blasio insisted that service was safe. He maintained that the launch of NYC Ferry wasn’t rushed and stressed that the service has largely been a success.

“We’ve had a huge level of demand for the ferries,” the mayor said. “They’ve worked well. There were times where we had too much demand and we had to adjust and we did adjust.”

With Lisa L. Colangelo and Nicole Brown

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