NTSB Releases Findings in 2009 Collision in San Diego Bay

An NTSB press release issued July 12, 2011 states that the probable cause of the 2009 collision that occurred in San Diego Bay between a United States Coast Guard patrol boat and a recreational motorboat was due to the excessive speed of the Coast Guard boat during nighttime conditions in an area of high vessel density. In addition, the NTSB determined the Coast Guard’s ineffective oversight of its small boat operations nationally and at Coast Guard Station San Diego also was a cause.

The incident, which occurred on December 20, 2009, at approximately 5:40 p.m. in San Diego Harbor, involved a 33-foot Special Purpose Craft-Law Enforcement Coast Guard vessel that had five crewmembers aboard it, and a 24-foot Sea Ray recreational vessel carrying 13 people. The two vessels collided during an annual holiday boating event called the Parade of Lights.

The Coast Guard vessel was actually responding to a grounding when it struck the Sea Ray from behind. The grounding is not considered an emergency. As a result of the collision, an 8-year-old boy was killed and four other people were seriously injured. None of the crewmembers onboard the Coast Guard vessel were injured.

The NTSB press release states the Coast Guard boat was operating at a planning speed of at least 19 knots, possibly as high as 42 knots. NTSB Chairman Deborah A. P. Hersman said “It is especially sad that a family night of celebration in the Bay ended in tragedy because of a coxswain’s poor judgment and the Coast Guard’s ineffective oversight of vessel operations.”

As to the finding regarding the lack of oversight of the small boat vessel operations, the NTSB stated that the Coast Guard Station San Diego lacked an effective oversight system to monitor the operation of their vessels while on patrol. If there had been proper monitoring, the accident could have been prevented. The Station’s officer of the day, who was present on the Coast Guard vessel, did not advise the coxswain to slow down before the collision occurred.

As for recommendations, the NTSB recommended that the Coast Guard increased their vigilance in checking speed of their boats, and establish policies prohibiting excessive speed, as well as develop a monitoring system which would detect deviations from standard operating guidance and procedure. A further recommendation was that the Coast Guard implement procedures to ensure that crewmembers can compensate for obstructions that potentially affect forward visibility on SEC-LE vessels.

A synopsis of the NTSB report, which include the probable cause, conclusions as well as safety recommendations is available. The full report of the NTSB is going to be available on their website in several weeks.

Our firm continues to be safety advocates for passengers and crewmembers who are injured at sea.