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Ferry Company in Wall St. Crash Has History of Accidents and Lawsuits

By James Fanelli | January 9, 2013 2:37pm

DOWNTOWN — The commuter ferry company whose boat crashed into a Wall Street pier Wednesday morning, injuring dozens of passengers, has a history of accidents, lawsuits and bankruptcy, records show.

Seastreak LLC has had at least 11 incidents involving its fleet over the past decade, ranging from ships running aground to an engine room catching fire to equipment failures, according to U.S. Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board records.

In an Aug. 22, 2010, incident, a Seastreak ferry traveling at 25 knots from Martha's Vineyard to New York City hit choppy water, sending metal life-jacket lockers crashing through a cabin window, Coast Guard records show.

One passenger was struck by the flying debris, suffering head lacerations, a broken nose and a bruised rib. A second passenger, Sara Davis, suffered cuts to her forehead. She later sued Seastreak in Manhattan Supreme Court.

In 2010, a young New Jersey boy received a $22,500 settlement after his parents sued Seastreak for overall negligence when he was injured while sitting in the cabin area of a ferry on a sight-seeing tour of the Statue of Liberty. The boy suffered a laceration to his forehead when the boat plowed through a wake, throwing him into a bench, the family's lawyer, Jack Vlasac, said.

"There was no alert that they were coming through a wake ... or no security to ensure everybody was seated or fastened into the seat," Vlasac told DNAinfo.com. "The boat was traveling too fast."

He added that no crew tended to the boy until the ferry docked. 

"It just went to show the overall lack of personnel that they had," Vlasac said.

In August 2009, the Seastreak Wall Street ferry was docking at East 35th Street in Manhattan when it struck the pier, causing a 2- to 3-foot tear in the starboard bow, Coast Guard records show. No passengers were injured in the crash.

Seastreak also had two ships run aground since 2007, records show.

On Jan. 7, 2010, the Seastreak New Jersey ferry, carrying 50 passengers, went aground on a sand bar near Shrewsbury, N.J. due to ice. No injuries were reported.

A day later, on Jan. 8. 2010, a ship heading for Pier 11 in Wall Street grounded while leaving the Atlantic Highlands Marina in New Jersey.

The National Transportation Safety Board also investigated a Sept. 28, 2001, fire that broke out in the engine room of the Seastreak New York while the ferry was carrying 198 passengers from Sandy Hook Point, N.J., to New York.

The blaze did not cause any injuries but resulted in $81,000 in damage. An NTSB report criticized  the ferry crew's firefighting response, Seastreak's maintenance and inspection procedures, and its passenger management.

Coast Guard records also show Seastreak's fleet has suffered five equipment failures since 2007.

Seastreak provides service around the tri-state area, including transports to the Jersey Shore and commuter trips between both sides of the Hudson. Its parent company, Sea Containers, filed for bankruptcy in 2006, worrying riders that service would be affected. In 2008 it sold Seastreak to a subsidiary New England Fast Ferry Co.

More than 50 passengers on Seastreak ferry were injured Wednesday morning when the ship slammed into a slip while pulling into Pier 11/Wall Street. Two passengers were in critical condition as of Wednesday afternoon, officials said. The ship was carrying 343 passengers and was moving at 10 to 12 knots per hour.

A Seastreak spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.

NTSB said Wednesday that they will spend the next five to seven days investigating the crash.

Wednesday's crash recalled the deadly Staten Island Ferry disaster in 2003. In that crash, the Andrew J. Barberi slammed into the St. George Terminal while transporting 1,500 passengers. Eleven people were killed and more than 70 injured. The assistant captain operating the boat claimed he blacked out because he was extremely fatigued and on painkillers.

The crash prompted the NTSB to recommend that ferry operations have a safety management system in place.