EXCLUSIVE: Ferry company responsible for collapsed dock never inspected underwater

EXCLUSIVE: Ferry company responsible for collapsed dock never inspected underwater
Photo by Jason Speakman

What you don’t see is what gets you.

The city let the company that runs the East River ferry pier in Greenpoint where a ramp collapsed during a snowstorm on Feb. 13 perform its own inspections on the structure — and the operator never bothered to peek under the waterline, a source close to the investigation said. The sudden crumpling left commuters who rely on the boats shaken and hoping that the operator will take safety more seriously.

“I hope the collapse means they will raise the standards all the docks will be safer now,” said Shanna Volkman, a Williamsburg resident and regular rider. “At least no one got hurt.”

Inspectors found the India Street pier, gangway, and barge to be safe just 10 days before the ramp fell into the icy waters, the city said, but not based on any underwater examination by the ferry corporation Billybey, according to the source.

The collapse came moments after several commuters crossed the gangway, the source said.

Billybey eyeballs the pier weekly, but never sent a diver to look under the hood because it is unheard of for such equipment to fall apart two and a half years after being built, the source said.

A spokeswoman for the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which oversees the boat-commuting service, said that the city is “committed to ensuring that the ferry is a safe and reliable mode of transit,” but refused to provide a copy of the latest inspection.

Now the ferry operator, which does not own the dock but is responsible for keeping it safe, is trying to figure out what caused its equipment to end up in the drink.

A preliminary investigation found that the two supports holding up the barge, which is the floating platform closest to the boat, fell, causing the barge to float away from land. The runaway barge pulled the gangway, which was attached to the pier at the other end, breaking apart the ramp and sending it into the murky depths of the East River.

Billybey said it has not yet figured out why the supports failed and that it will now dig them out and inspect the welds and fastenings.

The ferry company said it will not use the pier until it completes its investigation and does not have an estimate of how long that will take.

Until then, the city will run shuttle buses along that portion of the ferry route, carrying commuters to the nearest working docks. Click here for a full schedule.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.
Photo by Jason Speakman