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Mechanical failure cited in NY ferry accident


NEW YORK - The captain of the Seastreak Wall Street ferry that slammed into a New York pier last week told investigators that the reverse thrust controls failed as he tried to slow the vessel.

The 36-year-old captain, described as Seastreak’s most experienced captain, said that neither the starboard nor center console controls responded. In addition, at some point during the rapid sequence of events, “he reported that both diesel engines shut off,” National Transportation Safety Board member Robert L. Sumwalt said at briefings about the Jan. 9 allision. The accident injured more than 57 — two critically — of the roughly 326 passengers and five crew onboard. There were no steering problems.

You can watch all of Sumwalt's press briefings here.

Sumwalt said NTSB spent three hours talking with the captain, who was not named, and 90 minutes with the mate the day after the accident. They also interviewed the engineer and two deckhands. The captain has 17 years experience on ferries and 12 as captain.

“Each of these crewmembers are shaken and very concerned about the accident,” Sumwalt said. “They’ve been very forthright and cooperative.” The captain told investigators he was rested. Blood alcohol tests showed 0 percent for each crewmember, “just where we want to see it,” Sumwalt said. Drug tests were sent to a lab for analysis.

NTSB will go through all maintenance records trying especially to determine if others had experienced problems with the thrust controls.

The 141’x34’x6’4” high-speed Seastreak Wall Street built by Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding, Somerset, Mass., entered service in 2003.

Last July, the vessel’s original waterjet system was replaced with a pair controllable-pitch props, Sumwalt said. “The engines were never modified,” he said. However, the original four Cummins KTA main engines, which drove four KaMeWa A50 waterjets, were replaced by a pair of MTU 16V4000M53 engines driving two controllable-pitch props, according to Incat Crowther, which helped design the new system.

The captain at the time of the accident was also the one who conducted sea trials and trained others on the new system.

Since no voyage data recorder is required, Sumwalt noted “there is so little data that whatever is available we need to capture.”

The engine manufacturer told the NTSB that the engine control unit captures data “that may shed light on why the engines shut down during the accident,” Sumwalt said. In addition, the ferry has six closed-circuit TV cameras including four on the engines.

NTSB also wants to track down all available video of the accident. He asked that anyone with cellphone or other videos send them to

They’ve talked with officials of Atlantic Highlands, N.J.-based Seastreak, a sister company to Moran Towing Co., Interlake Steamship Company, and Mormac Marine Group. In addition to its New York operations and its fleet of five vessels, Seastreak operates a seasonal ferry between New Bedford, Mass., and Martha's Vineyard.

“While Wednesday’s accident remains under investigation, you can rest assured that we will learn from the accident and the investigation, and if it is determined that changes to our operation are appropriate to make our service safer for our riders, we will promptly institute those changes,” Barker said in a message on the company website. 

1/21/2013 11:27:46 AM Lauren Dowsett says:

Desmond, "Crew Boats" a a heck of a lot different than a high speed ferry! Always and I mean always the ferry is slowed 1/2 mile out before "line-up" and probably "crabbing" for the wind! ALWAYS!! I've handled ferrys and there's NO "high speed" run-up to slip with the Captain throwing the engines into full reverse, Never! Desmond, have you ever been on a ferry?? Probably not. In fact a trip to Seattle will calm your "mis-statements" of this Captain in New York.
Captain, Lauren N. Dowsett
1/16/2013 7:10:17 AM Russell Desmond says:

There's your answer as to cause. Going to fast when he reversed his engines. He either stalled them out or ran the engines backward and stalled them due to his forward speed. Fact that he was a jet jockey and now has a new drive system he's not that familiar with sets him up for this kind of accident. Done it myself with oil field crew boats before. Remedy: don't come into the dock at high speed then reverse your engines hard to stop. 99% of the time it works but that 1% can be a bitch! He is in good company though Didn't President John F Kennedy once do this with PT~109?!



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