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New York ferry captain says mechanical problem preceded crash

By Chris Francescani

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The captain of a ferry that crashed into a pier near New York's Wall Street told investigators the reverse thrusters failed to work as the vessel neared the dock, leading to the crash that injured 57 people, federal officials said on Thursday.

The 36-year-old captain, the Seastreak ferry line's most experienced with 12 years at the helm, told the National Transportation Safety Board that he attempted to slow the vessel on Wednesday morning but the commands did not respond, the board said after its first full day of inquiry.

"The captain reported the vessel would not respond to his reverse thrust commands as anticipated," NTSB member Robert Sumwalt told reporters, recounting part of the captain's three-hour interview.

The captain alternated between control consoles attempting to get the propellers to work in reverse, and "somewhere during this sequence he reported that both diesel engines shut off," Sumwalt said.

The NTSB did not identify the captain by name. The New York Post reported the captain was Jason Reimer.

The ferry, the Seastreak Wall Street, had experienced at least two previous docking accidents, in 2009 and 2010, including one blamed on mechanical failure, according to a U.S. Coast Guard website.

The captain and the first mate, also interviewed on Thursday, were both "shaken and very concerned about the accident," Sumwalt said, calling them both "forthright and cooperative."

The five-member crew tested negative for alcohol, Sumwalt said. Drug test results will take longer, he said.

The high-speed commuter ferry was carrying more than 300 passengers from New Jersey when it crashed into a pier during a docking approach.

Injured passengers were laid out on stretchers on the pier as the fire department and others called to the scene administered first aid. One patient remained in critical condition on Thursday, New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center said.

The accident occurred as commuters lined up to disembark and head to work. Many were thrown to the deck by the impact, which tore a gash in the 141-foot (43-metre) catamaran.

"It's a pretty good-sized hole," Coast Guard spokeswoman Jetta Disco said. The ferry was traveling at 10 to 12 knots, or about 11.5 to 14 miles per hour, when it hit the pier.

Ferry operator Seastreak is owned by the Barker and Tregurtha families, who also own the Interlake Steamship Company, Mormac Marine Group Inc, and Moran Towing Co, the largest tug and barge operator on the East and Gulf Coasts, according to the company's website.

(Editing by Daniel Trotta and Leslie Adler)

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