NYC’s Atlantic Highlands to Wall St. Ferry Crashes

115282-the-seastreak-wall-street-ferry-f48bcPolice and fire officials say 59 people injured and two passengers are in serious condition when a ferry from New Jersey struck a dock during rush hour, at approximately 8.45 a.m. at South Street Seaport  in lower Manhattan. News reports say the Seastreak Wall Street catamaran ferry from Atlantic Highlands, N.J., banged into the mooring as it arrived.  City officials said the ferry hit two slips and was traveling at about 10-12 knots, equal to 11-15 mph.

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

Some patients were carried out strapped to flat-board stretchers, their heads and necks immobilized. About a dozen passengers on stretchers were spread out on the dock, surrounded by emergency workers and firefighters.

In 2003, 11 people were killed and 160 injured when a Staten Island Ferry crashed into a pier on Staten Island after its pilot passed out at the wheel. This incident resulted in over $60 million to settle lawsuits stemming from the crash. In addition, NYC has already paid $5.96 million to repair the ferry and another $1.5 million to fix the damaged pier.  The City expected to spend an additional $23 million more  to implement safety measures on boats and on repair costs related to the disaster.

Three people were badly hurt and about 40 injured when the same ferry hit the same pier in 2010, due to a lost of break power. Lawsuits against the city have been filed, however,  settlements on these suits are not expected to reach as high as they have for the earlier incident due to a number factors. First, there were not as many injured as the 2003 crash and there were no deaths. Secondly, the 2003 crash resulted due to a number of improprieties that the city was held responsible for, namely, the captain being on painkillers and overworked.

Until this crash is investigated and a reason is found for the cause of the crash, lawsuits may remain on hold. In the earlier ferry crashes, claims were made against the city of New York as they owned and operated the Staten Island Ferry. This ferry was privately operated, owned by a company operating as “SeaStreak”.

While the Seastreak Ferry website states that it is a privately held company owned by the Barker and Tregurtha Families, News Reports and Wikipedia report that Seastreak;

… began operation in 1986 as Express Navigation. In 1999 Sea Containers Ltd. acquired Express Navigation for $5 million, The company was renamed SeaStreak. SeaStreak has been a subsidiary of New England Fast Ferry since 2008. The acquisition was a result of its former parent owner Sea Containers Ltd. filing for bankruptcy in 2006.

Prior to it’s 2006 bankruptcy, SeaStreak had been considering a sale of the company to a number of interested parties. Financial troubles are not new to the companies operating ferry service to and from New Jersey. In 2003, NY Fast Ferry, which ran out of Highlands, declared bankruptcy and ceased operations; some media reports noted that it could not compete with NY Waterway, was subsidized after 9/11. This only leads us to wonder if possible shortcuts could have been taken with safety on the Seastreak’s fleet as an effort to cut costs.

The State does not regulate ferry operations as it does with trains and buses, and as such, there is no direct oversight.   As the accident is further investigated, the details of the cause will be reported here.

Update, January 21, 2013: The New York Post reports the first lawsuit against SeaStreak has been filed. The attorney for the injured man claims he had to take action immediately as SeaStreak has filed a claim in federal court seeking to limit its liability under the 1851 “Limitation of Liability Act”.

That claim would require a single proceeding for any claims that are filed, and would limit the amount of claims against the company resulting from the lawsuit to the total value of the ferry at the time of the accident. SeaStreak received a ‘valuation certificate’, or appraisal, shortly after the accident occurred.

Monmouth County attorney Randolph Wolf explains;

“Under this law, SeaStreak will only be permitted limited liability if they can prove they lacked ­knowledge of the problem that caused the accident before the accident occurred”.

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