Homeland Security Boat Ride
Posted by Susan Stark

The ferry that runs from Staten Island to Manhattan and back is undeniably one the greatest free boat rides in the world, if not THE greatest. It provides a stunning view of the New York Harbor, from the Verrazano Bridge connecting Staten Island with Brooklyn and defining the border between the harbor and the ocean, to the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan. Tourists from all over the world experience this ride, as well as locals looking for a cheap, fun activity. But the ferry is also an absolute necessity for the 70,000 Staten Islanders who commute to Manhattan to work each day.

And ever since that fateful day six years ago on the 11th of September, the ferry experience has suffered.

For Staten Islanders like myself, we have a painful reminder of the missing Twin Towers, because they used to be the first thing we saw of Manhattan when coming down to the ferry terminal. Now we only see the absence of them.

After the attacks, the ferry was suspended for ordinary traffic, and only “essential personnel” where allowed into Manhattan (rescue workers, policemen, firemen, etc.). It wasn’t until the following Monday, on the 17th, that the ferry was open to foot traffic again.

But, in a certain way, the Staten Island Ferry is still suspended. The carefree boat ride isn’t what it used to be.

It started with the unfortunate but necessary suspension of car-ferry service, in which Islanders and other New Yorkers could drive their vehicles onto the ferry and across the water. Fear of car bombs put a stop to that. Car-ferry service has not resumed.

Worse, as far as I’m concerned, is the banning of musicians on the ferry. We used to have performers come on the ferry, much in the same way the subway still does today. Now they’re not allowed, allegedly because passengers wouldn’t be able to hear announcements over the PA system. However, I don’t ever remember the music being so loud that we couldn’t hear the loudspeaker. That enjoyment is a casualty of September 11th.

Another troublesome difference was the installation of security cameras on the boat. Apologists would say that, like the car-ferry and musician ban, this protects us. But I feel like I’m in a department store rather than on a free ferry ride, with roving little cameras fixing their beady little black eyes on me. In any case, the cameras aren’t much use against a terrorist, except for maybe identifying what happened after the act of terror occured, assuming the cameras weren’t disabled either before or after.

And if the musician ban and department-store cameras weren’t bad enough, there is the Coast Guard. I shouldn’t ever regret the presence of the Coast Guard, because of their search-and-rescue training. But on the little Coast Guard boat that escorts the ferry occasionally, there’s a wicked-looking semi-automatic perched up right were it can swivel and shoot a ferry passenger at will. Ostensibly, any shot-down ferry passenger will be a terrorist, but mistakes can be made, and innocent bystanders can be hit instead.

And, to top it all off, just last week I was on the ferry listening to my radio, when an NYPD helicopter decided to trail the boat, loud enough to drown out what I was listening to. I was outside on the top deck, so I got a pretty good view of the helicopter circling around the boat. Finally it “faced” me and started moving sideways, like some weird, flying crab. Presumably there might have been a reason for it’s presence, but if anything was happening on the boat, I don’t see what good a helicopter could’ve done.

I always believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and sensible precautions such as banning cars and using dogs to inspect bags and packages are necessary. The rest of it, unfortunately, is just a lessening of enjoyment and a waste of the taxpayers’ money.


One Response to “”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Yeah, this is a sad state of affairs. I live in Seattle now, but used to live in Bremerton, WA, a small town across the Puget Sound that is home to the Puget Sound Naval Station. Car ferry service was never suspended, and they didn’t install security cameras that I know of, but we did have the Coast Guard fastboat escorts as well. The big guns on the swiveling stands DID make it seem like we were being protected. Of course, we all thought the same thing as you: just what are the sailors on the Coast Guard boats going to do if anything happens besides watch the ferry sink and call for help.

    After a while, something rather troubling started happening. About nine months to a year after 9/11, the escorts for the Seattle/Bremerton ferries stopped, but continued to be used for another ferry service that runs from Bainbridge Island to Seattle. Besides being closer to Seattle than Bremerton, Bainbridge Island also has a lot more, shall we say, affluent members of society. It made a lot of us working stiffs that lived in Bremerton wonder if there wasn’t some favoritism going on. Ferries running to and from the ferry terminal in Bremerton, Washington–which is right next to the largest naval base in the region–were getting no security escorts. I’m quite serious when I say that the ferry terminal is a stone’s throw from the base–a person could stand on the bow of the boat and do it. Meanwhile, the ferries to/from Bainbridge Island, which has no naval bases but a lot of rich people and nice homes, continued receiving Coast Guard escorts. Even now, anyone can go to the Seattle waterfront to see the ferries coming in and going out, and it’s always easy to tell which ferry is going where, simply by which one has the Coast Guard escort.

    Such is the way of America, I guess. We’ve always had a little problem setting our priorities. One group of people who are better off financially, socially, etc. gets to at least feel safer, and it’s paid for using taxpayer money. Another group is made to wonder if they even matter.

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