Ship blamed in fatal fishing boat collision, Coast Guard search response also criticized
U.S. Coast Guard investigators plan enforcement action against a cargo ship accused of operating carelessly in fog when it struck a commercial fishing boat off California in 2007, killing the one fisherman aboard.
The Coast Guard also criticized the deceased fisherman and its own search and rescue response in the incident, which happened July 13 about 6 nautical miles west of Point Reyes, which is about 30 miles north of San Francisco.
The multipurpose tweendecker containership MV Eva Danielsen was sailing too fast, failed to post lookouts and didn’t use a foghorn at the time of the collision, the Coast Guard said in a casualty report. The collision demolished the antique wooden-hulled FV Buona Madre, killing its occupant.
The accident happened after the 291-foot Eva Danielsen had departed San Francisco Bay en route to Portland, Ore. With visibility around 200 yards in the Pacific Ocean, the Bahamas-flagged ship struck the 28-foot Buona Madre at 1712. Eva Danielsen was traveling at 11.5 knots, the Coast Guard report said.
One of the cargo ship’s officers was feeling ill and was not on the bridge after 1700, witnesses reported. Only the second mate was on the bridge. Two mates had observed fishing vessels in the area but failed to slow down.
Eva Danielsen’s officers violated regulations “by failing to post a lookout, failing to sound fog signals (and) having only one person in the pilothouse to maneuver the vessel and act as a lookout while monitoring the navigation equipment, all in restricted visibility conditions," the report said.
The master admitted to not complying with the vessel’s safety management system. He “did not allow all operations to be completed and still comply with mandatory rest periods. This was the explanation for not posting a lookout in restricted visibility."
Coast Guard investigators couldn’t ascertain complete 96-hour work/rest histories for the master and second mate, the report said. “The second mate had a work/rest history log sheet for the month of July entered by the master who had falsified official documents for the vessel," the investigators wrote.
The report said Eva Danielsen’s operator was K/S Aries Shipping, an affiliate of Redereit Otto Danielsen of Virum, Denmark. JÃ¸rn Staureby, fleet manager for Otto Danielsen, said instead that another of his company’s units, Estonian Shipping Co. Ltd., was the technical manager at the time.
Staureby declined to comment on the incident because a legal dispute is pending between the company’s insurance provider and the fisherman’s widow. Staureby said only that Eva Danielsen’s crew was changed, and the fleet’s crews underwent extra training.
At the time of the collision, the second mate spotted an object on his radar near the ship’s bow, but then the target disappeared. He suspected that his vessel had struck a fishing boat, although no shuddering was felt. He fetched the master.
“Look like that we have collision with small fishing boat," the master told the Vessel Traffic Service via radio.
Eva Danielsen stopped and circled, but the crew never saw a boat. The master told VTS that it was probably a “false alarm." VTS and other fishermen in the area also became convinced that no boat was missing. At 1745, VTS released Eva Danielsen to continue its voyage.
A fishing boat discovered the body of fisherman Paul Wade at 1030 the next morning, 4.6 nautical miles northwest of the suspected location of the collision. Wade, of Santa Cruz, was floating with his face in the ocean, wearing a life jacket. The cause of death was drowning, the Sonoma County Coroner reported.
Only pieces of the fishing boat were recovered. The Coast Guard said paint samples taken from Eva Danielsen’s bow matched those of Buona Madre’s debris.
The Coast Guard noted that the fishing boat was probably operating unsafely. Wade had no one else to serve as operator or lookout, or to sound fog signals or monitor navigation equipment in the restricted visibility. He also may have been fishing.
The report recommends one regulatory change. Currently, fishing boats that are 36 feet long or shorter need only carry a manually activated Category 2 406-MHz EPIRB. The investigators believe these boats should have the same requirements as larger fishing boats. Wade didn’t activate his manual EPIRB.
Because small vessels “are at least as likely to suffer catastrophic damage and rapid sinking as the larger vessels … the only acceptable option should be a float-free automatically activated EPIRB Category 1 406-MHz EPIRB mounted in such a way that it would float free and self-activate if the vessel sinks," the Coast Guard wrote.
A separate memo from 11th Coast Guard District Commander Rear Adm. P.F. Zukunft announced remedial actions as a result of mistakes in the Buona Madre response. When VTS and other mariners presumed there had been no collision, two hours of daylight remained. Survivability modeling calculated that Wade could have lived for 6.9 hours.
Eva Danielsen’s second mate initially thought his ship had struck the fishing boat Marja, because he had just made a passing arrangement with Marja. The crew of Marja checked in with VTS as unharmed and said they had witnessed the cargo carrier safely pass the only other fishing boat known to be in the area, Rogue.
Zukunft said “several misleading clues" convinced everyone involved that no collision had occurred. The Sector San Francisco Command Center failed to follow policies that call for an immediate response of Coast Guard units even if a false alert is suspected. Only the sector commander may classify an incident a false alert.
“The premature and incorrect conclusion limited further investigation that might have resulted in earlier discovery of Mr. Wade or debris from Buona Madre," the district commander wrote.
“The Coast Guard did not employ a full range of search and rescue resources immediately to respond to the suspected collision," he said.
Zukunft’s memo specifies remedial actions including all-hands training. It recommends:
• The addition of a remote VTS radar site at Point Reyes and Pillar Point.
• Considering locating VTS and the Sector Command Center in the same place.
• Evaluating a potential protocol for notifying Vessel Movement Reporting System users of high fishing boat activity.
• Extending San Francisco Bay’s North Traffic Lane by five to 10 miles, to minimize commercial vessel course changes in the offshore fishing location.