GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Patriot Stories

June 13, 2009

CG report shows broad failure in Patriot case

The Coast Guard's delayed response to the initial notification of a fire alarm radio signal from the doomed fishing vessel Patriot reflected systemic failure by duty personnel at multiple levels, according to a final action memo issued by the Atlantic Area commander.

The 54-foot fishing vessel with its crew of two — Capt. Matteo Russo, 36, and his father-in-law John Orlando, 59 — sank about 15 miles from Gloucester, its home port, early on the Saturday morning of Jan. 3.

A separate investigation continues into the cause of the sinking. In all likelihood, the catastrophe occurred with lightning speed, so that, even if the multiple mistakes made by Station Gloucester, Sector Boston and the First District (also in Boston) that put off the search and rescue response had not occurred, the two lives still would have been lost, the report by Vice Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr. made clear.

He placed the actual sinking of the boat at between 1:17 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. — at least five minutes before the first notice to the Coast Guard of a possible boat in distress.

Both experienced fishermen apparently drowned quickly after entering the 42-degree water without survival suits that were believed to be on board the well equipped vessel. Russo and his wife Josie had acquired the boat the previous March, and put extensive renovation work into it.

Papp did not quantify the time lost; yet his report makes it clear that the decision to launch search and rescue assets should not have taken 2 hours, 23 minutes. The admiral also acknowledged that "situational ambiguity regarding the condition and location of the vessel made it particularly difficult to process the search and rescue case."

That problem was that "the vessel's fire alarm system, used for dockside monitoring, indicated it had been activated, but the vessel's multiple at-sea emergency distress signals had not provided any indication of emergency and distress."

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