By Judy O’Gorman Alvarez
Atlantic Highlands Ferry ‘Hard Docks’ into NYC Pier
SeaStreak, the popular commuter ferry, smashed into the Pier 11 dock in lower Manhattan at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday morning, shocking and shaking the some 300 passengers and crew on board, injuring 57, two of them critically.
The 140-foot high-speed passenger ferry, which can accommodate up to 500 passengers, departed from the Atlantic Highlands terminal at 8 a.m. The ferry, typically filled with passengers commuting to their Manhattan jobs, was scheduled to continue to its next stop at the East 35th Street pier.
Despite the posted notices throughout the ferry instructing passengers to remain seated until ferry has stopped, many passengers were standing in aisles, or on the staircases of the watercraft, preparing to disembark.
First responders, who were on the scene within minutes of the accident, began treating patients on the pier and on the boat and then transported patients out of the area, according to Frank Dwyer, a spokesman for the Fire Department of New York. More than 100 firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics responded to the scene.
According to EMS, the two passengers most seriously hurt suffered head injuries. They were taken to different Manhattan hospitals. Some 20 other patients were “longboarded” (transported on a long spine board or backboard to provide rigid support while moving the patient) and the others “were walking wounded.”
Most of the injuries came from falling down stairs. Many noncritical patients were brought to Brooklyn hospitals so as to not tie up the nearby hospitals.
One ferry rider, a Monmouth Beach resident who works in New York City and asked to not be identified, said, “There was a loud crash,” as the boat made its way to the pier. That crash, he said, caused “significant damage” to the boat’s bow.
As the boat hit the dock, passengers fell and personal effects, like coffee cups and handbags, went flying.
More than that, he said, he witnessed a number of injuries suffered by his fellow commuters on the ferry that appeared to be filled to capacity for Wednesday morning.
“People were falling, some of them had cuts and injuries,” he said. “I saw one man that had a significant head wound.”
It appeared to him those that were most impacted were people who were standing, waiting for the boat to dock. That, he said, is a common occurrence, as riders line up, prior to the boat’s docking, even though the boat has numerous signs telling passengers to remain seated until the vessel docks.
That is one takeaway lesson for him. “I’ll be sure to be seated when it’s docking,” he said.
“We’re here to find out what happened and prevent it from happening again,” said a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board. He confirmed that the ferry crew will be interviewed and that “alcohol and drug testing were done in accordance to federal regulations, as per any transportation accident in this country.” The results will be released, he said.
The safety record of the vessel involved “will become part of the investigation and will be up to the investigators to release,” said Mike Hansen, SeaStreak spokesperson.
While there are many theories about the cause, a frequent SeaStreak rider and boat enthusiast, offered his speculation. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if the reason for the ferry’s accident had to do with a recent retrofit the ferry underwent.
According to the website for Marine Log Magazine, a company in Louisiana last summer performed a retrofit of the SeaStreak Wall Street, including a new propulsion system, replacing four water jets with controlled pitch propellers.
“SeaStreak received a grant to replace the jets on one boat with a new type of propulsion technology to save fuel,” said the Monmouth County resident who would prefer to be anonymous. “But the downside is reliability and maneuverability because you are going from four jets to two props.
“Unfortunately, the difference between jet propulsion and prop propulsion is that jet propulsion allows the boat to stop and turn much more quickly,” he said.
Subsequent calls to SeaStreak officials had not yet been returned as of press time on Wednesday.
“Company management is working closely with emergency responders, including the New York Fire and Police departments to treat the injured and to respond to the situation,” according to a SeaStreak written statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with those that were injured. SeaStreak LLC will work closely with the federal, state and local authorities to determine the cause of the accident.”
SeaStreak runs year-round ferry services from Atlantic Highlands and Conners at Highlands to Pier 11 Wall Street, East 35th Street with shuttle service to the World Financial Center. Five high-speed catamarans run to points in Manhattan from Central New Jersey. A round-trip ticket to Manhattan costs $45; a 40-trip ticket costs $655.