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Monday, September 24, 2018

Staten Island ferry case demonstrates importance of operations compliance programmes

The prospect of criminal prosecution of office staff has been a risk for some time. But the case of the Staten Island ferry pilot, who was sentenced to 18 months for causing the 2003 ferry crash in New York, and of the ferry director, who was sentenced to 12 months, demonstrates how important it is that operating companies have operations compliance programmes that help to ensure that what is happening onboard ships is in compliance with company policy and applicable regulations.  

This case occurred in the U.S. but it is hard to imagine that the risks are much different in Europe these days. More tanker companies are implementing Operations Compliance Programmes, some creating such a function that reports directly to the CEO.  

This fits in very well with the Poseidon Initiative (which will take place during INTERTANKO’s Singapore Tanker Event end March this year) with its focus on continuous improvement, on making what we have work properly, and on working together to raise standards even further and set new goals of excellence. 

The following article, reporting the judgement on the Staten Island ferry accident, appears courtesy of Lloyd’s List, Wednesday 11 January, 2006. 

The pilot of the commuter ferry that crashed into a pier in the New York City borough of Staten Island in October 2003, killing 11 people, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison, while the city’s former ferry director has drawn a sentence of one year and a day. 

Richard J Smith, the 57-year-old pilot, pleaded guilty in August 2004 to 11 counts of seaman’s manslaughter and concealing his use of pain medicines. Former ferry director Patrick Ryan, 53, pleaded guilty in April last year to one count of seaman’s manslaughter and making false statements. 

Mr Smith read a statement that recounted how he took painkillers on the night before the crash to cope with a bad back. 

He passed out on the bridge while the ferry was on a run from Lower Manhattan, causing it to ram into a concrete maintenance pier near Staten Island’s St George’s Terminal. The impact tore the side of the ship apart, maiming or injuring dozens of the 1,500 passengers. 

Mr Smith tried to slash his wrists while still on the ferry and later tried to shoot himself with a pellet gun. 

Edward R Korman, the chief judge in the US District Court in Brooklyn, disregarded pleas made by victims’ families and the federal prosecution for stiffer sentences and from Brooklyn’s chief federal probation officer for sentences of three months for Mr Smith and six months for Mr Ryan. The guidelines provide a range of 12 to 18 months for Mr Smith and six to 12 months for Mr Ryan. 

Mr Ryan’s sentence commits him for his admission that he failed to enforce a rule that requires two pilots onboard while docking. Mr Smith was alone on the bridge when the accident happened. Judge Korman found Mr Smith guilty for negligence rather than the pilot’s own admission of recklessness, saying the government had failed to prove that the pain medicine was incontrovertibly the cause for his loss of consciousness. The judge also gave credence to Mr Smith’s remorse. "His statement was not an act," Judge Korman said. "He is a broken man. Beyond whatever sentence I impose, he will suffer for what he did for the rest of his life."


Contact: Bill Box