During the horrific Staten Island Ferry crash of 2003, which killed 11 people and injured many others, the Dorothy J. tugboat was one of the vessels that came to the aide of the crashed ferry. In 2006, the crew and owners of the tugboat sued the city for millions, citing "ancient maritime law" in which mariners are encouraged to help other boaters in distress, with financial compensation as a reward. But in a ruling today, a Brooklyn federal judge decided that the Dorothy J. wasn't really much help after all, and tossed the owner and crew a mere $46,203.33, to be split three ways.

"The only assistance that the Dorothy J. rendered that justifies a salvage award of any kind is the comfort that its presence provided the passengers and crew," Judge Edward Korman wrote in his decision, which was obtained by the Post and the News. "Though perhaps emotionally draining, the labor required during the salvage operation was not exceptionally demanding." Korman also dismissed the tugboat company's claim that they stopped the ferry from drifting out into shipping channel’s after it struck the pier at the St. George Terminal on Staten Island. But the Dorothy J.'s second mate, Robert G. Seckers, says there was considerable risk involved, and the city warned him that the "much larger ferry might sink and take the tug down with it."

The decision comes as private ferry and cruise-boat operators are close to finalizing a deal with the city, state, and federal government for compensation for helping during such emergencies. NY Waterway, for instance, has provided emergency services for free during incidents like the 2003 blackout and U.S. Airways Flight 1549 that landed in the Hudson. Arthur Imperatore Sr., the chief executive of the financially struggling NY Waterway, tells the Journal, "That day of the blackout, we'd have had a riot if we didn't let the people on without paying the fares. If we were obliged to go to work, there certainly should be a schedule of fees, an agreement, outlining who calls the shots."