GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Patriot Stories

February 3, 2009

CG chief: VMS use wasn't 'routine'

'Case study' to look at Patriot response

The Coast Guard's top ranking search-and-rescue officer says that getting access to a VMS or vessel monitoring system database to locate the last "ping" point position of the Patriot for a lifesaving effort for the crew of two should have been "routine."

It wasn't.

Instead, as Sector Boston Commander and Capt. Gail P. Kulisch has said, the watch officer on the Jan. 2-3 overnight shift was unable to gain immediate entry to the VMS system from the workstation at Sector Boston despite "several" attempts.

In a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., Cmdr. Erin MacDonald, chief of the policy division for search and rescue, said that should not have happened.

That Sector Boston did not make routine use of the VMS system, MacDonald said, "is an issue that is being addressed in the search and rescue case study."

That study, an internal investigation of the Coast Guard's delayed response to the signs of the Patriot's distress, is well under way; on a parallel track, the Coast Guard continues to try to determine what undid the 54-foot long, steel-hulled fishing boat.

The Patriot lies on its starboard side on the sandy bottom of Middle Bank, the fishing ground favored by the Gloucester fleet for their 800 pounds of cod a day each boat is allowed by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The Coast Guard had estimated the location as 15 miles from port, but in a statement yesterday, changed the location to 18 miles from Gloucester.

The first underwater views of the Patriot, both still photos and video, were taken by fisherman Bill Lee, captain of the vessel Ocean Reporter, two weeks ago. Last weekend, better quality video pictures of the wreck were made by a remotely operated vehicle brought to the site of the wreck by the Coast Guard.

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