Engine Room Fire Causes Evacuation of 868 Passengers from Ferry in NYC

evacuation of NYC ferry
Tugs positioned alongside the Sandy Ground to hold her in position during the transfer of passengers (NYPD Special Ops)

Published Dec 23, 2022 12:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

An engine room fire aboard one of the newly commissioned Staten Island Ferries in New York City caused a mid-harbor evacuation of nearly 900 people during the rush hour commute on December 22. Officials from New York City praised the response of the crew and passengers reporting only a few minor injuries.

The New York City Fire Department received an emergency call shortly after 1700 reporting that there was an engine room fire on the ferry 4,500 ton Sandy Ground. The vessel which has a capacity of 4,500 people and can transport cars was in New York harbor making a trip from the Battery in Lower Manhattan to the St. George Terminal on Staten Island.

The New York Fire Department and the police special operations unit highlighted that it was a collaborative response involving the harbor, aviation, and emergency services units, the fire department, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Adding to the challenge were deteriorating weather conditions in New York City last night. The area was experiencing high winds with gusts over 40 m.p.h. and periods of heavy rain.

The officials reported during a press briefing that five New York Police Department vessels responded to the ferry along with tugs. They also placed a call for the privately owned and operated ferries to respond.

“The crew had already put CO2 into the engine hold as would be the policy to do," said Deputy Assistant Chief Frank Leeb. "Our main objective was to secure the vessel and to start getting the passengers offloaded onto other boats.” 

Passengers aboard reported that the crew had moved people away from the area and ordered everyone to put on lifejackets. By the time the responders reached the scene, the passengers had been gathered into a few areas and the decision was made to evacuate the ferry. The tugs and another ferry were used to hold the Sandy Ground in position while the ferry was used to create a sheltered area.




“A decision was made to use other ferries to offload the passengers, as that was a safer alternative than putting them on to fire or police boats,” said Leeb. A fleet of small ferries operated by NYC Ferry, Hornblower, and New York Waterway all responded to offer assistance and pictures show two of the ferries noised into the ramps on the Staten Island ferry to facilitate the transfer. Witnesses said the crews formed a human chain to transfer the passengers across to the private ferries which then shuttled them to the terminal on Staten Island.

“This was not a lucky event. This is years and a long time of preparation and training,” said Leeb during the briefing after the evacuation was completed. “The crew acted as the crew was supposed to act.”

According to the fire department's final tally, 868 passengers were evacuated and an additional 16 crewmembers. He said there were a total of five injuries reported, with three people transported to a hospital.

The Sandy Ground is the second of three new ferries built by the Eastern Shipbuilding Group for New York City. The vessel was completed in December 2021 and sent to New York for final preparations, testing, and training before it entered service on June 17, 2022. It is part of a vital transit system in New York that operates more than 100 trips per day across the harbor carrying approximately 70,000 passengers on weekdays.

Speculation is centered on a possible oil leak in the engine room. The fire department reported they would continue to monitor the temperature in the engine compartment and planned to enter the engine room today to begin an investigation.