Investigation Continues Following 'Significant' Pier 11 Ferry Accident

The damaged SeaStreak Wall Street soon after its crash at Pier 11 on Jan. 9. Photo by Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

It took just moments for everything to go wrong.

So said a preliminary accident report issued weeks after the SeaStreak Wall Street’s crash at Pier 11 that injured dozens of passengers, including one critically.

As the commuter ferry approached its slip on Jan. 9, the captain transferred propulsion control from the vessel’s center operating station to a station on the starboard side with better visibility for docking. But when he walked to the second station, the controls did not respond, the captain later told investigators. He tried to transfer control back to the center station, but got no response there either.

There was no time, the captain said, to issue warnings to the ferry’s 326 passengers before the vessel struck the dock.

What happened next has since been classified as a “significant marine casualty,” by the Coast Guard. One in four passengers aboard suffered minor injuries, according to the preliminary report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board in late January. As of Jan. 23, one passenger remained in the hospital, although his condition had been upgraded from critical to serious.

“Everyone went flying everywhere,” said Bill McKenzie, an uninjured passenger from Rumson, NJ, who was resting on the pier following the accident. The boat went “from however fast it was going to zero,” he said.

Several passengers crashed into glass doors in the back of the boat. One man fell down a flight of stairs. In all, 83 passengers and one crew member were injured.

“We were just kind of coasting into the dock, and it just didn’t seem like they had reverse thrusters,” said passenger Brett Cebulash, who was boarding a FDNY bus to have his knee examined at a hospital in Brooklyn. According to Cebulash, it seemed that the thrusters “didn’t do what they normally do, and you know it was just a big, sudden shock.”

The vessel’s engines stopped after it crashed into Slip D2, according to the report. After a crew member restarted the engines, the captain was able to regain control of the vessel and maneuver it to a nearby slip. By the time it was docked, first responders were already on the scene.

More than a dozen investigators from the Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), city Department of Transportation and Coast Guard investigated the accident, from checking for underwater obstructions near the pier to examining the ferry’s engines. It could take up to a year for the NTSB to release a final report.

The agency said that one focus of its investigation is the ferry’s new engines and “controllable pitch propellers” installed in 2012. The SeaStreak Wall Street is the only vessel in its fleet that underwent those modifications, according to SeaStreak spokesman Tom Wynne.

SeaStreak is also conducting its own investigation into the accident, Wynne said.

“We strive to provide a safe and efficient means of travel, and we recognize that our track record of safety has been marred,” SeaStreak president James Barker said in a statement on the company’s website. “We will continue to work hard to earn your trust.”