Wednesday, July 2, 2008

USCG Buoy Tender collides with Block Island Ferry

Wow, this is not the kind of news we expect to be hearing during this age of modern electronics - radar, AIS, GPS....

Earlier this afternoon, in dense fog, the passenger ferry BLOCK ISLAND (first photo) collided with the 140' USCG cutter MORRO BAY. (second photo) Preliminary reports are that there were no injuries, and minimal damage. [See new story here].

I spoke with one eye witness who saw the ferry after it arrived at Block Island, and he described a large, 3' dent/gash/gouge in the bow of the ferry.

Initial information indicates that the MORRO BAY was heading west, and the BLOCK ISLAND was southbound. My mental chart says that these boats were in a classic "crossing" situation, and once in visual sight of each other, rules 15, 16 & 17 would apply, with the MORRO BAY as the "give way" vessel. The waters this incident occurred in are international, so the COLREGS apply.

Complicating all that is the fog, which I can tell you gets as thick as pudding out here. So, until the final few moments, neither vessel had any "right of way", because they were not in visual contact.

But wait a minute. Where are the radar observers? The AIS, and ARPA? I know the captains on the ferries have 16oo ton licenses. I can't speak to what the qualifications of the operator on the buoy tender are; but one would assume he's not a junior coxswain. These are not amateurs out there; these guys are some of the most professionals that stand a wheel watch, and somehow, they managed to completely mangle a foggy crossing situation.

The ferry travels at about 16kts, and I would guess the buoy tender at 12-15kts. They should have had plenty of time to sort out some passing arrangements and avoid a collision.

The investigation into this incident will drag on, but the results should be fascinating. Stay tuned.