Two people died on Tuesday, February 18, when the car they were riding in rolled off a Fisher Island Ferry that was carrying cars and passengers off the island.
Officials from the Miami Dade Police Department (MDPD) say the accident happened around 4 PM on Tuesday. Emma Afra, 63, of Miami, and Viviane Brahms, 75, of Harrison, New York, were riding inside a 2019 Mercedes. Somehow, the car rolled off the ferry and sank in Government Cut, a 50-foot-deep manmade shipping channel.
Miami Dade Fire Rescue and MDPD worked together to try to rescue the passengers, sending divers down to locate the car. They eventually found the vehicle with the two unresponsive victims inside. The car was later recovered, and the two women inside were pronounced dead.
“The United States Coast Guard will be conducting a maritime incident investigation, and the Miami-Dade Police Department will conduct the death investigation,” police spokesperson Alvaro Zabaleta said in a statement Wednesday.
Roberto Sosa, president and CEO of the Fisher Island Community Association, expressed the community’s sadness over the tragedy, and stated that the community association would provide grief counseling for residents, guests, and employees.
Globally, between 2015 and 2019, at least 6,000 passengers have died or gone missing on ferryboats, according to a rough tally from the Worldwide Ferry Association. However, most of these deaths happen in other countries with less strict safety standards.
“In the past 20 years, ferry fatalities are very few in the United States,” said Roberta Weisbrod, the executive director of the New York-based Worldwide Ferry Association. “It’s very rare in developed countries.”
Authorities still aren’t sure how the car went off the ferry, as they haven’t found video of the incident. However, it’s typical for the crew to place blocks, called chocks, under vehicle tires to prevent the cars from rolling forward. (Drivers are also instructed to use their parking brakes.) Currently officials believe the ferry’s crew used them on the day of the accident, including on the Mercedes.
Then there’s the thin netting strung up at the edge of the boat, which proved to be no help at all. Weisbrod, of the ferry association, said photos of the Pelican’s barrier show it was nothing more than a visual marker to show the edge of the vessel. “As opposed to something really effective, something that would hold back a roll,” she said, adding that similar ferries in other cities have heavy metal gates to prevent accidents.
Afra was a philanthropist who worked to stop child abuse and human trafficking. Her sister, Mary Davis, said she was a wonderful sister and daughter.