I-Team: Ferry in Crash Had History of Accidents, Maintenance Issues

Accident reports compiled by the U.S. Coast Guard reveal that the Seastreak Wall Street ferry had been involved in several crashes and one maintenance overhaul in the years leading up to Wednesday's crash.

Five months before crashing into Manhattan’s Pier 11, the Seastreak Wall Street ferry boat underwent an extensive overhaul of its drive system. Owners of the vessel paid Incat Crowther, an Australian naval architecture company, to replace the ferry’s jet propulsion drives with a propeller system. The new repowered vessel was supposed to be lighter and more fuel-efficient, according to the Incat Crowther website.

Before the owner renovated the boat, the Seastreak Wall Street suffered a series of bumps and bruises, starting in 2006. On Dec. 13 of that year, Coast Guard inspectors found a foot-long crack in the vessel’s hull. According to an incident brief, the port engineer working for Seastreak told investigators “he did not feel the crack in the hull was of much significance.”

The Coast Guard believes the crack was caused by the boat crashing into an unknown pier. 

In 2009, Coast Guard investigators found the ferry’s controls malfunctioned while the ship was docking at Manhattan’s 35th Street pier. Because the starboard helm control failed to slow the vessel down, the boat crashed, causing a 2- to 3-foot tear to the starboard bow.

After that accident, investigators ordered the Seastreak owners to make permanent repairs.

Also in 2009, the Seastreak Wall Street’s main electrical power panel shut down during a trip to Manhattan on May 1, according to Coast Guard reports. The engines came back on when power was switched to the boat’s backup control system. 

On Jan. 29, 2010, the vessel hit a cluster of piles near the Sandy Hook Bay Marina in Highlands, N.J., puncturing the skin of the ship.   

Paul Hofmann, a maritime lawyer who represented one of the victims of the 2003 Staten Island Ferry crash, said accident investigators will likely pay special attention to the history of mechanical problems aboard the Seastreak Wall Street.

“Something happened here. It’s either human error – somebody was not operating the vessel properly -- or probably, more likely, mechanical error,” Hoffman said.

A message was left with Seastreak's U.S. headquarters in Louisiana.

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