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CITY WON'T TALK ON FERRY FIASCO

Oct 19, 2003 | New York Post

Three days after a Staten Island Ferry barreled into a dock at full speed killing 10 passengers and injuring scores more the city continued to stonewall on what caused the vessel to slam into the pier and what steps are being taken to prevent a repeat.

Officials from the Department of Transportation the city agency in charge of the ferry fleet refused to answer most of a 10-item questionnaire sent by The Post aimed at discovering why the Andrew J. Barberi was speeding at 17 mph seconds before it hit land.

"The National Transportation Safety Board is the primary agency conducting the active investigation of the accident," wrote DOT Transportation Department spokesman Tom Cocola.

"The public, the families affected by the accident and the city are not served by piecemeal fact finding in the press nor by fact finding based on conjecture or rumor."

Cocola said Capt. Michael Gansas was not originally scheduled to work the day of the accident, but wouldn't go into detail about how much notice he had before reporting to work.

Cocola confirmed that the powerhouse - also known as the pilot house - is supposed to be locked and that other members of the crew have radios in case of emergency.

But he wouldn't say if crew members on the ill-fated boat attempted to warn the captain of the impending disaster.

Transportation officials also refused to comment on reports that Gansas was not in the ship's powerhouse when the ship was scheduled to dock - which would be a direct violation of policy.

But one crewman with 17 years' experience aboard Staten Island Ferries found that explanation hard to swallow.

"I have never known a situation where someone was left alone in the powerhouse to dock the ferry," said the navigation mate, who did not want to be identified. He was not aboard the Barberi during the crash.

"The guy at the controls gets kind of cranky if he hasn't got his lookout there with him, giving him the 360 [degree view] on what's around and about."

Asked if it was possible that Assistant Captain Richard Smith slumped onto the controls and Gansas was unable to lift him off in time to reverse the throttle, the crew member said, "Maybe."

NTSB officials will interview Gansas on Tuesday.

Smith remained in critical condition last night following a botched suicide attempt in which he slit his wrists and shot himself in the chest with a high-powered pellet gun.

Two NTSB officials were at the St. George terminal yesterday taking pictures of everything around the dock but refused to comment on the investigation.


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