GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 13, 2009

Coast Guard commander transferred; Patriot investigations are still incomplete

Coast Guard leader leaving with investigations incomplete

By Richard Gaines

Capt. Gail Kulisch, commander of Coast Guard Sector Boston for 17 months that included the still unexplained sinking of the fishing vessel Patriot with its two-man family crew, has been transferred to a unit in Arlington, Va.

Announcement came in the form of invitations to VIPs to a formal reception to celebrate the change of command. On May 15, Kulisch will be replaced by Capt. John N. Healey.

Kulisch was introduced to Gloucester by the Patriot tragedy on the weekend after New Year's, discussing two investigations.

Both are incomplete and will continue after Kulisch leaves Sector Boston to begin work in a "deployable operations group" that specializes in "maritime security planning and training for specialized forces," according to Lauren Jorgensen of the district's public affairs office.

One investigation focused on the cause of the Patriot's sinking, the other was a case study of the checkered response by the Coast Guard, which was defined by a more than 21รขÑ2-hour delay between the first report of trouble on the Patriot — a fire alarm and no cell phone responses from the two crew— and the launching of search and rescue.

Kulisch also acknowledged that the service was unable to gain immediate access to a search and rescue technology.

She spoke freely with the Times in explaining the chronology of response, which was delayed by the Coast Guard's inability to make facile use of a computerized tracking system that was mandatory on groundfishing boats and is used routinely by the National Marine Fisheries Service and its operational service partner to monitor boats and enforce regulatory rules.

Less than a week after the Patriot went down with its captain, Matteo Russo, and his mate John Orlando — the husband and father, respectively, of Josie Russo, the co-owner of the boat — Kulisch called a news conference in Boston to announce an unidentified boat had been in the vicinity of the Patriot.

In Gloucester the next day, the seventh day after the sinking, Kulisch and Coast Guard Cmdr. Nathan Knapp, who had been the duty officer in charge of the response, met with Russo, her mother and siblings to express their condolences.

Family members said Knapp broke down and cried.

At a Gloucester City Hall news conference, Kulisch added detail to the report about the other boat, describing it as a tug towing a barge. She said the Coast Guard intended to confiscate the 1,800-foot cable for forensic study.

As time rolled on, the reports from Kulisch and others at the service stopped.

Yesterday, a public information officer said the investigations are continuing, with no deadline.

"We are not tying the conclusions with her departure," said Jorgensen. "If the (investigations) are complete, we will release them. If she leaves, we won't rush it."

Kulisch assumed the command in August 2007.

Richard Gaines can be reached at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.