Federal investigators seek cause of New York ferry crash

NEW YORK Thu Jan 10, 2013 10:00am EST

NEW YORK Jan 10 (Reuters) - Investigators searching for the cause of a ferry accident Wednesday morning near Wall Street that injured dozens of people will reportedly look into possible mechanical failure, which was blamed for one of the boat's past docking crashes.

The National Transportation Safety Board inspectors were in Highlands, New Jersey, on Thursday where the Seastreak Wall Street was towed to its usual berth following Wednesday's morning rush-hour crash, said Coast Guard spokeswoman Jetta Disco.

The high-speed commuter ferry was carrying more than 300 passengers from New Jersey when it crashed into a pier during a docking approach injuring 57 people, one critically, authorities said.

"It's a pretty good sized hole," Disco said of the gash torn into the 141-foot ferry, which was traveling at between 10 and 12 knots, or about 11.5 to 14 miles per hour, when it crashed into the pier.

The five-member, all male crew of the Seastreak will undergo drug tests after having passed breathalyzer tests administered following the accident, Disco said.

The gruesome scene of passengers lying on stretchers at the pier recalled earlier landing crashes involving the Staten Island Ferry, including one in October 2003, which killed 11 people and injured dozens more, and a crash in May 2010 that injured about 40 people.

The ferry pilot in the 2003 crash and his supervisor were each sentenced to more than a year in prison for their roles in the accident. The pilot, Richard Smith, had passed out at the helm. He had taken painkillers the night before for a bad back.

Among the possible causes under scrutiny in Wednesday's crash is mechanical failure, after the boat struck a buoy about 100 feet from the dock before making the hard landing, according to local media reports.

Seastreak Wall Street had at least two previous docking accidents in 2009 and 2010, including one blamed on mechanical failure, according to a Coast Guard website.

The accident occurred as commuters lined up to quickly disembark the craft and head to work. Many were thrown to its deck by the impact of the hard landing.

The ferry is run by Seastreak, a company owned by the Barker and Tregurtha families, who also own the Interlake Steamship Company, Mormac Marine Group Inc, and Moran Towing Co, the largest tug and barge operator on the East and Gulf Coasts, according to the company's website.