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June 11, 2009

Coast Guard: Response was slow

Report finds delays in search for Patriot, crew

The Coast Guard yesterday announced that its response to the sinking of the fishing vessel Patriot, which went down under still uncertain circumstances in January with its crew of two, was slow and flawed.

"Our review of this case showed that we were slow to launch search and rescue assets because of poor collection and analysis of information and decision-making regarding the Patriot's status," said Vice Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr.

According to his report, the search and rescue effort was not launched until 2 hours and 23 minutes after the first notice of distress on the Patriot, which had gone fishing after dark on Jan. 2 to Middle Bank, about 15 miles from Gloucester Harbor.

A small portion of that period was lost in efforts to operate the VMS or vessel monitoring system, which emits period "pings" into a computer to provide tracking data.

Josie Russo, who lost her husband Matteo Russo, 36, and father John Orlando, 58, reported to the Coast Guard at 1:35 a.m. that a fire alarm signal from the Patriot, a newly re-outfitted 54-foot, steel-hulled trawler, had been received at the alarm company.

Search and rescue assets were not launched until 3:58 a.m. on Jan. 3.

A separate investigation into the sinking continues, Papp said.

Joseph Abromovitz, attorney for Josie Russo and her two children, has begun the process of suing a Louisiana company which owns an ocean-going tug that was towing a barge in the vicinity of the Patriot during its final hour.

Neither victim was wearing any survival gear, and no distress calls — maydays calls or signals from the boat's EPIRB or Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon — were received before the Patriot sank in about 100 feet of water.

Commander of the Coast Guard's Atlantic Area based in Portsmouth, Va., Papp also implied that the case study into the response undertaken by the First District in Boston was slow and flawed by the potential conflict of interest of self investigation.

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