By the time the captain of Seastreak Wall Street realised he’d lost control of the vessel it was too late to prevent the vessel colliding with a Manhattan pier at about 12 knots on the morning of January 9, 2013. Of the 331 people on board, 79 passengers and one crewmember were injured, four of them seriously, in the third significant ferry accident to occur in the New York Harbor area in the last 10 years.
The intended maneouvre was a common one among those commanding the Seastreak fleet: Reduce speed and transfer control from one bridge station to another better visibility less than a minute before reaching Pier 11/Wall Street on the East River. However, it left little opportunity to correct a loss of control at a critical moment.
The incident had been waiting to happen since July 2012 when a controllable pitch propulsion system was installed to replace the existing water-jet propulsion along with a poorly designed control panel and alert system, “The available visual and audible cues to indicate mode and control transfer status were ambiguous” says the NTSB.
Early in the voyage the captain had switched the propulsion system to back-up mode but did not switch it back to combinator mode before transferring control from the central to the starboard control station. The result was that instead of slowing as the vessel approached the pier it accelerated.
Even though almost six months had passed since it’s conversion the Seastreak Wall Street operations manual had not been updated and despite the transfer of control from one bridge station to another being a critical point in the vessel’s approach no formal company guidance was available for executing this procedure.
Says the NTSB: “The captain also could have benefited from the mate’s assistance, but company policies did not adequately define crewmember roles”.
NTSB examination of the evidence revealed that the passenger requiring the most extensive medical treatment had fallen down a stairwell, sustaining severe head injuries. Seastreak ferry crewmembers were not directed to control passenger access to stairwells, even when approaching a landing, nor were they required to make a passenger safety announcement upon arrival.
Additional areas of vessel management that were absent from the operations manual and company oversight were passenger control policies, formal training for crewmembers in vessel operations, vessel incident assessment, identification of possible risks and corrective action, and application of a safety management system.
The NTSB has released an abstract of its accident report here.