, Gloucester, MA

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January 11, 2009

Lack of VMS code slowed Coast Guard

Commander says they couldn't access info that could have pinpointed Patriot

The commander of Coast Guard Sector Boston said yesterday the start of rescue efforts for the doomed fishing boat Patriot and its crew was delayed by an inability to access computerized tracking records in the vessel monitoring system.

Although the VMS is primarily used for law enforcement, the Coast Guard in Boston has used it for search-and-rescue efforts. In November, facile use of VMS data contributed to the rescue of three fishermen from a boat at sea off New Bedford.

Yesterday, Sector Boston Commander and Capt. Gail P. Kulisch said she was not aware of the November operation. But, in a telephone interview with the Times, she acknowledged that delays in the Coast Guard's response to the Patriot's emergency occurred because the distress signal came in an unorthodox manner, and the key source of information was "a fisherman's wife."

Kulisch said that, to find the Patriot, Sector Boston command personnel made "several" unsuccessful attempts to pull from the VMS computer system the last radio-beamed location of the steel hulled, 54-foot boat. Eventually, she said, the sector watchstander called for help from the first district command center — which is also in Boston but at a different location.

"Ultimately," Kulisch said, "they were able to put the puzzle together."

The Patriot sank in the early-morning hours of Jan. 3 with the loss of the two-man crew, the husband and father of the boat's co-owner Josephine Russo. The bodies of Matteo Russo, 36, who co-owned the Patriot with his wife, and her father, mate John Orlando, were recovered in the pre-dawn hours by the belated sea-and-air rescue effort on prime fishing grounds and in a busy shipping lane 15 miles southeast of Gloucester Harbor.

Kulisch did not dispute comments by Russo-Orlando family members that she had told them that Coast Guard personnel in Boston had to call to Colorado to obtain the computer code to enter the tracking system.

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