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.