Coast Guard: deaths of six in sinking of Lady Mary due to incompetence, drug use, lack of training and poor seamanship…along with failure of agencies that inspect vessels to do their job

U.S. Coast Guard releases report on the investigation into the sinking of the fishing vessel Lady Mary

A Coast Guard rescue team recieves a survivor on board the Coast Guard Cutter Munro. The Alaska Ranger began taking on water 120 miles west of Dutch Harbor March 23, 2008.(U.S. Coast Guard Photo by CGC Munro)

WASHINGTON — 8/30/2013 — The U.S. Coast Guard Friday released the report on the investigation into the March 24, 2009, sinking of the fishing vessel Lady Mary which occurred approximately 65 miles southeast of Cape May, N.J.

The investigation revealed that the Lady Mary’s sinking and the loss of the crew was not due to one single factor, but rather a combination of numerous unsafe preconditions and a few unsafe decisions.

As one example, a number of modifications were made to the vessel over the years and their cumulative effect subtly lowered existing safety margins. Also, a lack of training, lack of experience, language barriers, fatigue, vessel loading, drug use, insufficient watertight integrity, compromised vessel subdivision and weather all played a role. The unsafe decisions made on the morning of March 24, 2009, included the decisions to drift, to leave the lazarette hatch open and to leave two freeing ports blocked by solid covers.

The investigation also revealed the Lady Mary’s sinking was a survivable event. The vessel was outfitted with a full complement of functioning life saving equipment and there was time for the captain or crew to broadcast a coherent Mayday, press one of the Digital Selective Calling alert buttons and/or launch a flare. Due to the lack of sufficient training, the captain and the crew were unprepared to deal with emergency situations and that negatively affected their ability to take actions to provide for their survival.

While there were defenses available to prevent unsafe conditions from developing onboard the Lady Mary, they either failed or were missing and thus were not able to alter the course of these catastrophic and tragic events. There were some defenses that could have been used onboard the vessel by the captain and crew, and some that could have been used by the vessel owner to improve the workplace before the vessel got underway. In addition, there were a number of regulatory defenses that also could have been used by outside organizations to help prevent unsafe preconditions from developing.

The investigation report in its entirety is available online at the Coast Guard’s Homeport page.

The Mystery of the Lady MaryFrom NJ.com —
Riotous waves pummel José Arias. In the frantic scramble to abandon ship, he zipped his survival suit only to his throat and now the freezing Atlantic is seeping in, stealing his body’s heat.

The cold hammers him, a fist inside his head.

Seesawing across the ocean, he cannot tell east from west, up from down. At the top of a wave the night sky spins open, then slides away. Buckets of stars spill into the sea.

“Sálvame, por favor. Sálvame.”

Save me. Please save me, he prays to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

In the chilly, early morning hours of March 24, 2009, 57-year-old José Arias fights for his life, floating in the water 66 miles from Cape May. The nearest lights are from another fishing vessel, which does not see him, anchored less than a half-mile away. A little farther out, a mammoth container ship steams toward Philadelphia.

Although Arias does not know it yet, all six of his friends and fellow fishermen are dead, and the red-hulled scalloper, the Lady Mary, is resting, right-side up, on the sandy bottom of the Atlantic. The mystery of what sank her, which continues to haunt the maritime world, has just begun.

For months, what happened to the 71-foot Lady Mary baffled the Coast Guard, marine
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