Monday, May 10, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) — The assistant captain was at the helm of a Staten Island ferry that slammed into a pier, injuring about three dozen people, city officials confirmed Monday.

Federal investigators on Monday were interviewing the assistant captain, Maqbool Ahmed, and other crew members of the Andrew J. Barberi. Investigators also were expected to talk to some of the 252 passengers who were on board the ferry for Saturday’s ill-fated trip.

City Department of Transportation spokesman Seth Solomonow said Mr. Ahmed was piloting the vessel, with the captain nearby in the bridge, when it crashed at Staten Island’s St. George Ferry Terminal.

The National Transportation Safety Board has interviewed the chief engineer and some of the approximately 18 crew members on the ferry.

Based on an initial interview Sunday with the chief engineer, “All conditions concerning the engines were normal prior to the accident,” NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said.

The engineer, who was in the ferry’s engine control room, said there were no engine alarms before the accident, Mr. Sumwalt said. There also were no previous problems with the propulsion system or electrical systems, he said.

The same vessel was involved in a 2003 wreck that killed 11 people. That accident occurred when the pilot, suffering from extreme fatigue and on painkillers, passed out at the wheel and the boat hit the St. George terminal at full speed. The ferry returned to service after a multimillion-dollar rehabilitation.

Alcohol and drug tests were conducted on the crew members in Saturday’s accident, Mr. Sumwalt said. The alcohol tests, which were conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard, came back negative for all, and the drug tests were being evaluated, he said. Investigators have not ruled anything out yet, said Mr. Sumwalt, part of a seven-member NTSB team.

The NTSB team will spend as much as a week collecting information and evidence surrounding the accident.

The ferry runs across New York harbor between Manhattan and Staten Island. Ferries landing at the terminal approach fairly quickly, then slow down by putting the engines in reverse.

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