Taxis keep cruising harbor

Reaction: Dismissing the accident as a `freak thing,' many board similar craft without fear.

Harbor Tragedy

March 08, 2004|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

While the Seaport Taxi sat idle as the investigation into a deadly accident involving one of its boats continued, The Water Taxi - the other ticket through the Inner Harbor - drew a steady and unshaken group of passengers yesterday.

"Actually, the accident doesn't make me nervous at all," said Fazal Mohammed of Alexandria, Va., waiting to board a Water Taxi with his wife, Nazia. "It was just an accident."

"It was just a freak thing," said Mark Fabiszak of South Baltimore. "These boats are probably just as safe as we thought they were before."

On Saturday, a Seaport Taxi crowded with 25 people capsized in rough water near Fort McHenry, killing one and critically injuring two others, with three more still missing and presumed dead.

That boat was similar to the three boats operated yesterday by The Water Taxi, which ran from Harborplace at its usual 15- to 20-minute intervals. For a $6 all-day fare, passengers got on and off at more than a dozen harbor stops.

Water Taxi employees were under orders to not talk about the accident with the media or passengers and to proceed as normal.

The boats are blue, with plastic roll-up windows and a metal ceiling.

Orange life vests are braced against the ceiling. The captain on one Water Taxi did not mention them to passengers or give any safety instructions beyond remaining seated while the vessel was moving.

"I don't know that they should make everyone now put on life jackets, just because of that accident. Just maybe children," said Debbie Lumpkin of Richmond, Va., boarding a Water Taxi in Fells Point with friend Sharon Burch, also of Richmond.

"If it was windy out today, I wouldn't be getting on," said Burch, who added that she had called family and friends Saturday night to let them know that she was not involved in the accident. "They all know we're here and were worried."

The Water Taxis did not make the usual stops in Canton yesterday at the request of police, who were searching that area of the water for accident victims.

They would go as far as Tide Point and then make a sharp turn across the Harbor into Fells Point. Off in the distance, a small police or fire patrol boat could be seen, with a helicopter circling above it.

Some people waiting for The Water Taxi and others walking through Fells Point strolled out on a pier, pointing to the location where the accident occurred and trying to get a glimpse of any police activity.

Another Water Taxi captain said business was slower yesterday than for a typical, sunny Sunday afternoon, but that passengers did not seem concerned about Saturday's accident.

"That was my first ride since I was a teen-ager. I don't do water," said Debra Gant, 43, of Burlington, N.C., who was visiting Baltimore with her friend Lisa Stone. "But we needed to get to the other side over there and I wasn't about to walk all the way around there just because there was an accident."

Gant and Stone were scouting Baltimore as a possible destination for a trip for the dance ministry at their church, Faith Baptist.

"I think we'll be back," said Stone, smiling. "We won't let the accident scare us away."

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