One of three Staten Island Ferries that recently underwent finishing and sea trials out of the Eastern Shipbuilding yard in Port St. Joe, the Sandy Ground, is under investigation after a fire broke out on the ship on Thursday, Dec. 22.
According to preliminary investigation results from the United States Coast Guard, the fire resulted from a fuel leak in the ship’s engine room.
About 800 passengers were evacuated from the boat as a result of the fire. Local Staten Island news outlets are reporting that the fire resulted in five injuries, with three individuals being transported to local hospitals, though all injuries were considered to be minor.
In the days following the incident, Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella called for a full investigation into the Sandy Ground, as well as the other Ollis Class vessels, all of which were manufactured by Eastern Shipbuilding and all of which departed Port St. Joe for New York within this year.
“What happened here? $85 million is not chump change,” Fossella said at a press conference, referring to the cost of building the ship. “We have to urge a full evaluation and analysis and investigation of the vessels because the last thing we want Is another 800 people or so getting onto another vessel and having something like this happen again.”
Officials said the ferry’s modern fire suppression system acted as designed by extinguishing the fire and locking the air tight engine room doors.
A Fire Department of New York Fire Commissioner told local news outlets she spoke with the Coast Guard and there’s “no concern at all” about it being a problem on Eastern Shipbuilding’s other ferries.
This was seconded by representatives from the New York Department of Transportation, who said after a preliminary investigation into the fire that there was no cause for concern in the other Olliss Class vessels.
Shortly after the incident, Roland Rexha of the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA) union representing the Staten Island Ferry crew released a statement: “Today’s Staten Island Ferry fire is very alarming. We have been deeply concerned about the safety of our passengers and crew as the new Ollis vessels have had serious issues and the DOT failed to train our members on the new fleet.”
“Our dedicated and experienced mariners are working long, tireless hours to maintain our service. Ferry safety is our greatest responsibility,” added Rexha. “It is time for the Mayor and NYCDOT to work with us to hear our staffing and safety concerns.”
In a statement, Joey D’Isernia, the president of Eastern Shipbuilding Group emphasized that the company was cooperating with the United States Coast Guard and the Department of Transportation officials in their investigation of the incident.
“We are glad that the vessel safety systems worked as designed to keep everyone safe and commend the responders for their actions,” he said. “We are confident in the quality and craftsmanship that our community built into these vessels. We are supporting the Coast Guard and DOT in their investigations and have offered our assistance in their efforts.”
Further information is not available at this time, with the investigation still ongoing.