The Seastreak Wall Street ferry accident that injured 80 was caused by the captain being unaware the propulsion system was in backup mode, the company’s “ineffective oversight of vessel operations” and passengers being allowed on stairwells while docking, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Tuesday.

The board also found that the propulsion control system “used poorly designed visual and audio cues to communicate critical information about motor and control transfer status.”

They recommended use of safety management systems as well as Voyage Data Recorders (VDR), saying such systems might have prevented the accident and helped in the investigation.

The 141'×34' ferry allided with a pier in Lower Manhattan on a Jan. 9, 2013, trip from New Jersey.

“The accident captain was qualified, was experienced, and was very conscientious,” said NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman. “He was the number-one captain….He was by all accounts a man that other crew members looked up to.” And while the report identifies that the final error was his, “the first vulnerabilities were introduced into the system years before.”

The captain, Jason Reimer, told investigators that as he was approaching Manhattan, he felt a slight vibration, so he switched to the backup mode and adjusted the pitch and starboard propellers. Then 700 yards from the pier, he began to slow the vessel, but because the system was in backup mode it went forward.

The staff found that while the control system display of visual information “met all existing requirements, no single display stood out to easily inform the operator of the engaged mode. Rather, an operator had to scan a number of similarly shaped buttons with identical illuminations, text size and shapes.” The captain didn’t have enough time “to interpret the illuminated buttons to identify the operating propulsion mode” before the accident.

The board recommended Seastreak change the control system to include audible alerts for backup mode and expedite implementation of a safety management system.

In 2010, Congress gave the Coast Guard authority to require such systems, and the agency has taken steps toward a rulemaking, an NTSB staff member said.

“It’s been three and a half years,” said a perturbed board member Robert Sumwalt. “They have not come out with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, not even an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.” And it will take at least two years to go from an NPRM to a final rule.

The NTSB also wants VDRs on new vessels, saying they provide valuable audio, radar and other data to aid investigations. Staff members said the Coast Guard has concluded the cost doesn’t justify the benefits. (The NTSB has no regulatory authority.)

The Seastreak Wall Street is operated by Seastreak, Atlantic Highlands, N.J. which is a sister company to Moran Towing Co., the Interlake Steamship Company, and Mormac Marine Group, which are collectively owned by the Barker and Tregurtha families. James R. Barker serves as chairman of Seastreak. 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.

Interlake general counsel Tom Wynne said he did not want to comment without having seen the NTSB report, noting Tuesday was the first time they’d heard the conclusions. 

The 330-passenger Seastreak Wall Street, one of four high-speed passenger ferries built for Seastreak by Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding, Somerset, Mass.,  entered service in 2003. The high-speed ferry has a 6.43' draft, and a top speed of 42 knots with a normal service speed of 38 knots. 

In July 2013, the ferry’s original propulsion package, four Cummins KTA50M2 engines and four KaMeWaA50 waterjets, was replaced with two MTU 16V4000M53 engines and a pair of Servogear controllable-pitch propellers to reduce fuel costs. The work was done at Midship Marine, Harvey, La. 

The AP reports that a message left at a number listed under Reimer's name was not immediately returned.

A link to the NTSB meeting should be available by the end of Tuesday at: