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Tugboat Rescues Stranded NYC Ferry

January 5, 2001

HIGHLANDS, N.J. (AP) _ A tugboat freed a commuter ferry that ran aground on a sandbar in waters off northern New Jersey, stranding 257 people for five hours.

The ferry, called The Finest, left New York City at 6:25 p.m. Thursday for a scheduled 40-minute trip to Highlands when it went off-course and got stuck on the sandbar in Sandy Hook Bay.

``He was out of the channel, and he got into an area where it was very shallow,″ owner John Koenig said Friday.

Ice may have obscured or moved marker buoys, said Koenig, president of New York Fast Ferry Corp.

There were no injuries, although a 40-year-old passenger was airlifted by helicopter from the ferry because of an allergic reaction, authorities said. He was released after treatment.

The tug operator, Robert Aragon, 63, of Highlands, said ice made it difficult to reach the ferry. Aragon agreed the ferry was likely off-course because markers were displaced.

Initial indications were that drugs and alcohol did not play a role, but crew members were given breath tests and will submit urine samples, the Coast Guard said.

The National Transportation Safety Board also planned to investigate.

No major damage to the ferry was found. The 125-foot catamaran, which has a capacity of 350, will likely be back in service Monday, Koenig said.

He expects the captain will remain with the company pending investigation.

Passengers said they remained warm and comfortable as they waited.

``They gave us free beer, for a while. We also had snacks, like peanuts,″ said Grayson Sanders, 60, of Holmdel. ``It was a nice quiet night, I got a lot of reading done.″

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