water safety

For many, ferries function like an aquatic extension of the incredible, sprawling MTA subway system. It’s a way for people to get from home to work, and then back again. For others, ferries provide for a scenic adventure, a brief waterborne respite from the concrete jungle. Ferries are the large, friendly, flat-bottomed boats that takes massive crowds relatively short distances, and rarely does their presence invoke fear of disaster. And while it’s true that they’re statistically among the safest means of conveyance available, that doesn’t mean these vessels are impervious to danger. In fact, a few recent tragedies involving ferry crashes paint a contrastingly heartbreaking picture.

Arguably the most heartbreaking event occurred recently, between Incheon and Jeju, South Korea. A ferry named the MV Sewol, carrying 476 people including many young schoolchildren, capsized. The ostensible cause was a too-sudden change of direction to starboard, the drastic nature of which caused a violent dislodging of internal cargo, which in turn unalterably tipped the balance of the ferry. The reason for the initial, abrupt turn remains unknown. What is known is the horrible aftermath: an indefinite casualty toll that continued to rise as missing persons were confirmed dead. In the end, the death count was believed to be just shy of 300.

New York was home to a ferry crash as well, though luckily, the death toll was not as high. In 2003, the Staten Island Ferry crashed into a cement pier. While the hull itself sustained no major, structural damage and the vessel itself was in no danger of sinking, the initial crash was enough to send many passengers overboard, and injured many of those who remained on deck. Eleven people tragically lost their lives, and 71 more were injured.

The difficulty with ferry crashes is determining blame. Unlike motor vehicle accidents, where an individual may be able to work alongside insurance companies and claims adjusters to pin down the details of the crash, ferry accidents involve enormous amounts of people and thus require a large, overarching inquest involving agents of various affiliations: insurance, police, city, state. For many victims, the impersonal nature of such an investigation leaves them feeling helpless and disconnected- required to simply trust in the judgment and abilities of officials without more direct means of taking control.