In October 2003, a 3,335-ton Staten Island ferry smashed into a pier, killing 11 people. Now officials say the ferry system is undergoing a major safety culture makeover, reports theNew York Daily News.

"The Staten Island ferry has gone far to greatly enhance safety on our boats," said Tom Cocola, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation, which oversees the ferry operation.

"After the accident, we immediately called for staffing of two licensed officers and a deck hand in the pilothouse, as well as a series of other measures," he added.

In April, the department hired a veteran maritime manager away from his job as operations chief for New York Water Taxi to implement a safety system recommended by a U.S. Merchant Marine Academy study released in February.

That study found the ferry's 468-person staff to be 95 bodies shy of the workforce needed to avoid excessive overtime that contributes to fatigue or lax safety.

"We have thus far hired, or are in the final stages of hiring, more than 30 deck hands," said an official. The ferry plans eventually to add 100 new people, and overtime is expected to decrease.

New hires are subject to background vetting, unlike any in recent memory, and have undergone maritime training previously absent from the Staten Island ferry operation, officials say.

Even vocal critics within the ferry's ranks acknowledge that gone are the days of word-of-mouth rules. All hands are getting radios. Soon, full uniforms will be required of all.

What has not changed, inside sources told the Daily News, is a culture of patronage that pervades the ranks of middle managers. Lucrative overtime and cushy assignments still are doled out from friend to friend. Whistleblowers face retaliation.

"Just because you bring in straight honest people, you don't change the middle," said one insider. "It just continues to run the same way."