Sightseeing Boat Engine Catches Fire on the Hudson River, Sparks Evacuation of Nearly 100 People

NY Daily News - September 09, 2017

by RICH SCHAPIRO, THOMAS TRACY, GRAHAM RAYMAN

An engine fire erupted on a sightseeing boat near Governor’s Island Friday, forcing the evacuation of nearly 90 people — and the captain’s dog.

The FDNY, U.S. Coast Guard and the NYPD Harbor Unit evacuated 80 people, four crew members and the captain’s pooch from the boat after getting distress calls at 11:30 a.m., officials said.

The vessel was returning from the Statue of Liberty and was a few hundred feet from the Battery Tunnel vents where the Hudson and East Rivers meet when the smell of smoke started wafting through the cabin.

The boat came to a stop and soon the captain’s voice reported over the loudspeaker that there were engine problems, passengers said.

A swarm of police and FDNY boats surrounded the stricken vessel as choppers flew overhead.

“At that point, we were saying it’s something serious,” said Zubair Ali Khan, 30, from Toronto.

Firefighters boarded the vessel and extinguished the fire in the engine room, Anthony Gallo, the boat’s captain, told The News.

Passengers, who were instructed by Gallo and his crew on how to don personal flotation devices, were moved toward the rear of the vessel and helped onto police boats.

Some passengers saw smoke but no fire.

“The thing was so organized I wasn’t panicked at all,” said Khan. “We knew we were in good hands.”

Khan's friend Rehan Haider, 30, agreed.

“The police made us feel very comfortable,” Haider said. “It was a cool experience.”

Rescue workers brought the passengers to Pier 11 in the Financial District. No injuries were reported.

The dog wasn’t removed with the passengers because it’s owned by the captain. It left the vessel after the boat was towed to Pier 17, officials said.

The incident left Austrian tourist Wolfgang Strauss, 54, with a good story to tell.

"It was an unbelievable experience," said Strauss, who arrived Friday morning on a cruise ship. "It was an adventure, scary but we are safe and healthy and now we will enjoy the Big Apple.”

"It's a dream for me to come to this city,” he added.

A police spokesman characterized the blaze as a “small engine fire.” “I know you guys are probably tired of hearing my voice right now, but I just wanted to make sure you guys are all remaining calm,” Gallo said over a loudspeaker on the vessel during the rescue, video shot by a passenger shows.

“This is all for precautionary reasons. We’d rather be safe than sorry. That’s how we are in New York City. Nobody gets hurt, not on my watch, not on anybody else’s watch.”

In a strange coincidence, a passerby spotted a .38-caliber Colt six-shooter and two Ziploc bags of bullets on the rocks close to where the boat was later towed.

The gun was spotted near South St. and Dover St. around 10 a.m., police said.

NYPD Harbor Unit cops were summoned to retrieve it and just as their boat was nearing the gun the call came to respond to the fire.

Afterward, Harbor cops retrieved the gun and turned it over to the Crime Scene Unit for analysis.

Detectives believe the gun was dumped some time ago and later washed up on the shore.