More than two dozen Rockaway business owners and residents had to be rescued Wednesday when a Seastreak ferry taking them on a special cruise around Jamaica Bay ran aground not far from Cross Bay Boulevard Bridge, officials said.
The vessel Ocean State became lodged about 11:30 a.m. in mud in low water that the captain said wasn't on any nautical chart, said Tom Wynne, a spokesman for Seastreak LLC. With the tide going out and the water level dropping, the crew had the passengers move to the front of the ferry in an unsuccessful effort to free it from the mud, Wynne said.
About 12:15 p.m. the U.S. Coast Guard was notified and an FDNY vessel arrived to remove the passengers and four crew members. Howard Schwach, one of the passengers, said he and the others on the vessel were taken at about 1:15 p.m.to the Beach 116th Street dock in Rockaway Park, where they made their way to their cars. No one was injured and ferry officials said the 55-foot vessel appeared to be undamaged.
"It was very uneventful," said Schwach, who lives in the Rockaway area, about the rescue. "The ship's crew was great, the firefighters courteous."
Schwach said the ferry trip was arranged for him and others in Rockaway as a community meeting with Seastreak president Jim Barker to explore possible expansion of the company's ferry service to the area. Currently, Seastreak runs ferry service during weekdays from the Rockaway area to piers at the Brooklyn Army Terminal and Manhattan.
The Ocean State was headed east toward Kennedy Airport, which was discussed as a possible new stop, when it got stuck, said Schwach, who runs the local website onrockaway.com.
"He was embarrassed," Schwach said of Barker's reaction to the three-hour ordeal. Passengers were given hot chocolate, coffee and potato chips while they waited, Schwach said. Barker didn't return a telephone call or email message seeking comment.
Wynne said the Ocean State was not one of the vessels used on regular runs from the area to Brooklyn and Manhattan, noting that regular ferry service was uninterrupted. Late Wednesday, Seastreak officials were waiting to see if high tide would free the Ocean State from the mud.
Wynne said the company was "certainly willing" to look at possible expansion of its Rockaway service. But there were no current plans to add any additional stops, he said.