The Statue of Liberty ferry service projected Thursday that 4 million people will visit the iconic symbol of freedom and Ellis Island this year -- a record-breaker since Sept. 11, 2001.
"This year, we will hit 4 million," Michael K. Burke, Statue Cruises vice president and chief operating officer, said Thursday at the company's renovated Ellis Island office, which was flooded during superstorm Sandy two years ago.
Statue Cruises, which took over cruise tour operations from Circle Line in 2008, attributes the record volume to a more efficient security-screening process with state-of-the-art equipment and additional screeners, including a security tent with air conditioning and heating.
"Our security tent's new equipment has cut down the wait," Burke said.
Today, the time to go through security is "zero to 20 minutes," he said. After the terror attacks of 9/11, Statue of Liberty ferry riders waited "as much as one to two hours during holiday and summer peak days," he said.
Immediately after the attacks, visits to Lady Liberty and Ellis Island were suspended for three months to set up the airport-style security screening that caused the long lines.
So far this year, Statue Cruises has transported 3.8 million people on its fleet of eight ferries -- six of which hold more than 800 passengers. Almost 27,000 people boarded the ferries to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island on July 5, Burke said.
Two years ago, superstorm Sandy flooded both Ellis Island and Liberty Island, forcing the closure of the national monuments for eight months.
After 18 months of repairs, the company opened its new office space in Ellis Island's historic hospital facility, which provided health care to newly arrived immigrants well into the 1930s. Before Sandy, it housed exhibitions, some of which were destroyed by the flooding.
The brick hospital wing was under more than 4 feet of water. The hospital's industrial size washing machines and wringers, which washed and dried hospital linens, continue to stand in their original location.