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The U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area has taken final action on its investigation involving the deadly collision between a U.S. Coast Guard cutter and a small fishing vessel off Puerto Rico last year.
The collision took place August 8, 2022, at approximately 1:45 p.m., approximately four miles northeast of Dorado, Puerto Rico, involving the USCGC Winslow Griesser (WPC 1116) and the 23-foot vessel Desakata with two people on board. The collision resulted in death of one of the persons on the Desakata and the other was injured.
Vice Adm. Kevin E. Lunday, commander of Coast Guard Atlantic Area, convened a major incident investigation into the incident on August 11, 2022.
The major incident investigation board president determined that the mishap was caused because neither the USCGC Winslow Griesser nor the Desakata saw one another and, as a result, failed to take appropriate action that could have avoided or reduced the severity of the collision.
The report outlines a number of factors that contributed to the failure of the vessels to see one another and avoid colliding resulting in this unfortunate accident.
In a memorandum, Vice Adm. Lunday, outlined the MII Board’s findings, describing the Desakata as the give-way vessel in a crossing situation with the Winslow Griesser, which was on the fishing vessel’s starboard side. As the give-way vessel, the Desakata had the responsibility to take early and substantial action to keep well clear of the Winslow Griesser.
The MII Board found the Desakata had failed to maintain a proper lookout, but it could not factually conclude whether or not the Winslow Griesser maintained a proper lookout. Rather, the facts provided sufficient evidence that the cutter did, in fact, fail to maintain a proper lookout that would have enabled its crew to see the Desakata in time to take action to avoid the collision. The board also determined both vessels failed to maintain a safe speed.
Despite the determination that the Desakata was the give-way vessel, “the cutter’s failure to maintain a proper lookout and to maintain safe speed prevented critical actions by the cutter crew that ultimately could have avoided the collision or minimized the consequences,” the memorandum stated.
“The public rightfully expects the Coast Guard as professional mariners to maintain and emulate the highest standards of prudent seamanship and navigation. We did not do so here with tragic consequences for members of the public we serve. We will do better,” Vice Adm. Lunda said in his memorandum.
This USCG investigation aims to determine any claims in favor of or against the United States, as well as any punitive or adverse administrative action that should be taken against individuals whose negligence or misconduct contributed to the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board, with the cooperation of the Coast Guard, also convened an independent investigation into the collision to determine the cause of the accident and make recommendations to avoid similar incidents in the future.
As a result of the collision, the commanding officer of Winslow Griesser, Lt. Cmdr. Benjamin Williamsz, was temporarily relieved of his duties.
Based on the findings of this investigation, Rear Adm. David C. Barata, commander of the Coast Guard’s Personnel Service Center at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C., permanently relieved Williamsz as commanding officer, on May 9, 2023, citing a loss of confidence in Williamsz’s ability to effectively command the cutter.
Williamsz was recently reassigned to his new duty station in Washington state. Lt. Vincent Deegan has assumed permanent command of the cutter.
You can read a copy of the U.S. Coast Guard’s final action memo and MII report here.
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