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 boat's crew passed alcohol breath tests given after the crash. Crew members also took drug tests, the results of which weren't 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. Barker called him "a great guy."
The NTSB said it had yet to interview the captain.
The Seastreak Wall Street has been in minor accidents before. Coast Guard records said the ferry hit a cluster of fender piles while docking in 2010, punching a small hole in the ship's skin. In 2009, it suffered another tear on the bow after another minor docking collision. No one was injured in either of those mishaps.
The naval architecture firm that designed the reconfiguration, Incat Crowther, said in an August news release that the ferry's water-jet propulsion system had been replaced with a new system of propellers and rudders to save fuel costs and cut carbon dioxide pollution in half. Barker said the overhaul made it "the greenest ferry in America."
The hull was reworked, and the boat was made 15 metric tons lighter. At top speed, the ferry travels at around 35 knots, or 40 mph.
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 NTSB to determine if the new equipment played any role.
The ferry accident happened just a few hours before a 200-foot-tall crane collapsed onto a building under construction near the East River waterfront in Queens, injuring seven people.
Such ferry accidents happen every few years in New York. In 2003, 11 people were killed when a Staten Island Ferry crashed into a pier on Staten Island after its pilot passed out at the wheel. Three people were badly hurt and about 40 were injured when the same ferry hit the same pier in 2010 because of a mechanical problem.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Karen Matthews, Larry Neumeister, Ted Shaffrey and Verena Dobnik and researcher Judith Ausuebel.