Investigators look into NYC ferry crash that hurt at least 70
Colleen Long and David B. Caruso, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, January 9, 2013 9:59AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 10, 2013 9:17AM EST
NEW YORK -- Federal investigators on Thursday were starting to interview crew members of the high-speed commuter ferry that crashed into a New York City dock and injured at least 70 people.
The ferry had recently undergone a major overhaul that gave it new engines and a new propulsion system, and officials were looking into whether they played any role in the morning rush hour accident.
The catamaran Seastreak Wall Street had slowed following a routine trip across New York Harbor and past the Statue of Liberty on Wednesday morning when the impact took place, hurling scores of people to the deck or into the walls. Around 70 were hurt, 11 seriously.
The naval architecture firm that designed the reconfiguration, Incat Crowther, said in an August news release that the ferry's water-jet propulsion system had been replaced with a new system of propellers and rudders to save fuel costs and cut carbon dioxide pollution in half. James Barker, the chairman of the ferry's owner, Seastreak LLC, said the overhaul made it "the greenest ferry in America."
The hull was reworked, and the boat was made 15 metric tons lighter. At top speed, the ferry, built in 2003, travels at around 35 knots, or 40 mph (66 kph).
Seastreak spokesman Bob Dorn, asked whether the work had hurt the ferry's manoeuvrability or caused pilots any problems, said it would be up to the National Transportation Safety Board to determine if the new equipment played any role.
Dee Wertz, who was on shore waiting for the ferry, saw the impact. She said that just moments before the ferry hit, she had been having a conversation with a ferry employee about how the boat's captains had been complaining lately about its manoeuvrability.
"He was telling me that none of these guys like this boat," she said. "It was coming in a little wobbly. It hit the right side of the boat on the dock hard, like a bomb."
About 330 passengers and crew members were aboard the ferry.
"We were pulling into the dock. The boat hit the dock. We just tumbled on top of each other. I got thrown into everybody else. ... People were hysterical, crying," said Ellen Foran.
New York City's transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, said the ferry was coming in at 10 to 12 knots, or about 12- to 14 mph (20- to 22 kph), when it struck one slip and then hit a second.
Police said the boat's crew passed alcohol breath tests given after the crash. Crew members also took drug tests, the results of which weren't immediately available.
Officials identified the captain as Jason Reimer, an experienced seaman. In a 2004 profile in Newsday, Reimer said he had joined Seastreak as a deckhand in 1997 and became a captain three years later at age 23. Barker called him "a great guy."
The Seastreak Wall Street has been in minor accidents before. Coast Guard records said the ferry hit a cluster of fender piles while docking in 2010, punching a small hole in the ship's skin. In 2009, it suffered another tear on the bow after another minor docking collision. No one was injured in either of those mishaps.