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July 17, 2009

NOAA urging 250K boaters to check emergency beacons

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Citing delays in identifying a scallop boat as it sank in the Atlantic Ocean in March, the federal government is contacting nearly a quarter of a million boaters, urging them to make sure their emergency position locators are correctly registered in a rescue database.

The Coast Guard says an incorrectly recorded beacon number from the Lady Mary delayed notification of rescue personnel as the boat foundered off Cape May. Six of the seven crew members died.

As a result, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is mailing and e-mailing all registered owners of the emergency beacons across the country.

"I'm glad to see they are doing this; hopefully it will prevent a similar delay in search and rescue operations in the future," said Stevenson Weeks, the lawyer for the Lady Mary's owner.

The cause of the sinking is still being investigated. Weeks said a collision with another vessel in the early-morning darkness is the leading theory.

The accident in many ways parallels the Jan. 3 sinking of the Gloucester-based fishing vessel Patriot, which claimed the lives of Capt. Matteo Russo and his father-in-law, John Orlando.

In the Lady Mary's case, only one of the seven fisherman on board survived; he had jumped overboard and clung to a piece of wood in the ocean for hours, until being rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter.

The Coast Guard this week issued a marine safety alert urging boat owners to make sure their ship-mounted emergency position indicating radio beacons, commonly known as EPIRBs, and portable personal locator beacons are correctly registered with NOAA.

The EPIRB from the Lady Mary was wrongly recorded with the agency, off by one digit.

Thus, when the scallop boat ran into trouble March 24, there was a delay of nearly an hour and a half in locating it.

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