Tug firm to pay repairs in Navy boat collision Company settles out of court for bill of $245,000

October 01, 1992|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

A tug boat company will pay $245,000 to repair a Naval Academy sailboat that sank last year in the Chesapeake Bay when it collided with a coal barge, according to the terms of an out-of-court settlement reached yesterday.

While the Robert Dann Towing Co., based in Chesapeake City, did not admit liability in the accident, it agreed to pay the entire cost of fixing the American Promise, which was salvaged four days after the April 21, 1991 accident, government officials said.

"To say the least, we are extremely excited," said Cmdr. Mike John, a Naval Academy spokesman. "We can now do what we've always wanted to do. Our goal is to train midshipmen, not litigate cases."

The company agreed to pay for repairs despite a Coast Guard report that split the blame for the accident and raised questions about who actually owned the vessel -- the academy or the Naval Academy Sailing Foundation, a private organization that solicits donations of sailboats to the academy.

The owner of the tug boat company, Robert Dann Sr., refused to comment.

The American Promise, which cost $1.25 million to build, was donated to the academy in 1986 by Dodge Morgan after he sailed it on a record-breaking solo voyage around the world. The day after the accident, Mr. Morgan compared the sailboat sinking to "losing an old friend."

Yesterday, he said, "Maybe the friend will be off the respirator and back into society. . . . It's good to have her back in the water in a training function."

The Department of Justice and the Naval Academy announced the settlement yesterday afternoon, nearly 18 months after the early morning collision just north of Cove Point near the mouth of the Patuxent River.

A 365-foot Baltimore Gas and Electric barge loaded with 7,500 tons of coal was being pushed north by the tug from Newport News, Va., to the Brandon Shores power plant in northern Anne Arundel County.

The 60-foot American Promise was returning to the Naval Academy from a two-day training mission in the southern bay. The Coast Guard says the sailboat crossed in front of the barge as its crew members wrestled with a rigging problem.

The Coast Guard report, which is in the files at the National Transportation Safety Board, suggested that the American Promise crew and the towing company shared blame for the accident. The report concludes that the towing company didn't sound its horn in time for the sailboat crew to take evasive action, but also faults academy sailors for being distracted by the tangled sails, not keeping a proper lookout and failing to monitor emergency channels.

Safety board officials say their final report should be made public this month. A court date in the lawsuit was scheduled for Oct. 19.

Joseph Krovisky, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, said that the settlement, which followed five months of negotiations, ends the lawsuits filed by both the Navy and the towing company.

In court papers, each side blames the other for the accident. Robert Dann Co. sought a court order exonerating it from liability, and the government asked for $1.15 million -- $1 million for repairs and $115,000 for raising the sunken vessel.

But Mr. Krovisky said yesterday that those figures were early estimates and that the cost of raising the sailboat was much less than $115,000.

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