"We were pulling into the dock," said Ellen Foran, of Neptune City, N.J. "The boat hit the dock. We just tumbled on top of each other. I got thrown into everybody else. . . . People were hysterical, crying."
The crash, which ripped open a small part of the hull like an aluminum can, happened at 8:45 a.m. at a pier near the South Street Seaport, at Manhattan's southern tip. About 70 people suffered minor injuries, and for nearly two hours paramedics treated bruised and dazed passengers on the pier. Firefighters carried several patients on flat-board stretchers as a precaution. Others left in wheelchairs.
The cause of the crash was under investigation. The ferry, built in 2003, had recently undergone an overhaul that gave it new engines and a new propulsion system, but officials said it was too soon to tell whether they played any role.
Dee Wertz, who was on shore waiting for the ferry, saw the impact. She said that just moments before the ferry hit, she had been having a conversation with a ferry employee about how the boat's captains had been complaining lately about its maneuverability.
"He was telling me that none of these guys like this boat," she said. "It was coming in a little wobbly. It hit the right side of the boat on the dock hard, like a bomb."
James Barker, chairman of the ferry's owner, Seastreak L.L.C., said at a news conference hours after the crash that it was "a terrible day for all of us."
About 330 passengers and crew members were aboard the ferry, which had arrived from Atlantic Highlands, a part of the Jersey Shore still struggling to recover from Hurricane Sandy.
New York City's transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, said the ferry was coming in at 12 to 14 m.p.h. when it struck one slip and then hit a second. At top speed, the ferry travels at about 40 m.p.h.
After the impact, the boat was able to dock normally. Wertz, who saw the crash from the dock, said passengers raced off once the ramp was down.
"I think people just wanted to get the heck off the boat as soon as they could," she said.
Police said the crew passed alcohol breath tests given after the crash. Crew members also took drug tests, the results of which were not immediately available.
Officials identified the captain as Jason Reimer, an experienced seaman. In a 2004 profile in Newsday, Reimer said he had joined Seastreak as a deckhand in 1997 and became a captain three years later at age 23.
The NTSB said it had yet to interview the captain.
Seastreak spokesman Bob Dorn, asked whether the work had hurt the ferry's maneuverability or caused pilots any problems, said it would be up to the National Transportation Safety Board to determine.