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Manhattan Ferry Crash Injures Dozens

Source: WSJ

Posted on 09 Jan 2013 by Neilson

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Ferry crash in ManhattanA crowded rush-hour ferry from New Jersey collided with a dock in Manhattan on Wednesday, leaving 58 people injured with two passengers in serious condition.

There were 326 passengers and five crew members on board the privately operated Seastreak vessel at the time of the accident, according to New York City's transportation commissioner and the U.S Coast Guard

Among the 58 injured are at least two passengers in critical condition with head injuries, one of whom is expected die after falling down a stairway on the vessel, said officials at the scene. One crew member was among those injured in the cash.

The ferry struck Pier 11 in Manhattan's Financial District around 8:50 a.m., said Charles Rowe, a spokesman for the Coast Guard, which is leading the investigation of the crash. The apparent damage was a gash in the starboard bow about three feet above the water line.

"Basically, it was a hard landing," said Janet Sadik-Khan, the city commissioner of the Department of Transportation, during a new briefing at the scene. She said the pier would reopen at midday Wednesday.

As a matter of course, all five crew members on board will be tested for drugs and alcohol, Mr. Rowe said, a process that was already underway Wednesday morning.

More than an hour after the accident, passengers were still being taken off the vessel. Dozens of injured commuters waited all over the dock to be treated by emergency responders.

Some passengers could be seen in neck braces, others were carried away on stretchers. One passenger in a head bandage was removed from the scene in a wheel chair.

William Mitchum, 50 years old, was visiting a friend injured in the ferry crash at New York Downtown Hospital. His friend suffered lacerations to his back and wore a neck brace, he said.

"I'm just shaken myself," said Mr. Mitchum, who previously lived in New Jersey and took the ferry often. "I guess there's a first time for everything."

Inside the hospital, accident victims arrived in small groups, with people were crying. "It's just crazy, oh my God," Mr. Mitchum said.

Seastreak offers high-speed catamaran service between central New Jersey and Manhattan, according to the company's website.

A company employee confirmed that one of its vessels, Seastreak Wall Street, was involved in the accident. The 140-foot commuter ferry had departed from Highlands, N.J., before the crash.

The company was still trying to assess the nature of damage and how the accident occurred, the employee said. Staff at the company's office were watching television news to learn the extent of the injuries, and others are at Pier 11 are helping investigate the cause of the accident.

An official representative for Seastreak could not be reached Wednesday morning.

Seastreak's commuter fleet includes four vessels that can accommodate up to 400 passengers and another that can hold 149 passengers, the company's website says.

Seastreak, like other ferry companies, had experienced "allision" in the past, Mr. Rowe said, using the technical term for an accident in which a moving vessel strikes a stationary object. Such hard landings are unavoidable from time to time in ferry operations, he noted, and can be caused not only by operator error but also environmental factors, like tidal shifts and heavy wind.

According to Coast Guard incident reports, Seastreak Wall Street's most recent accident occurred in January 2010, when it struck pilings while docking at a marina in Sandy Hook, N.J. No one was injured and no enforcement action was taken.

The New York Harbor is the third-busiest in ferry traffic in the world, Mr. Rowe said, with hundreds of government and privately operated trips per day crossing the water between Manhattan, Long Island, Staten Island and New Jersey.

"They all have a darn good safety record," he said.

In the most serious ferry accident in the past decade, a Staten Island Ferry crashed into a pier in 2003 after an assistant captain passed out at the controls, killing 11 people and injuring 70. The pilot had taken painkillers the night before and served time in prison.

In May 2010, another Staten Island Ferry crashed and injured dozens of people on board.