Coast Guard investigating collision of tug, sailboat Yacht was struck without warning, witnesses say

July 15, 1993|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Staff Writer

Federal and city authorities are investigating the collision of the Cape Romaine, a Fells Point-based tugboat, and a racing sailboat in the Patapsco River amid allegations the tug's captain failed to take adequate measures to avoid ramming and sinking the craft.

Two members of the sailing crew were knocked into the water and were rescued by a Coast Guard vessel carrying the U.S. secretary of transportation, Federico F. Pena. The collision occurred on Tuesday while Mr. Pena was touring port facilities. He later attended a portion of the All-Star Game.

Two eyewitnesses told The Sun yesterday that the tug bore down on the 35-foot Lady Jane at high speed and struck the sailboat broadside without sounding a warning.

The Cape Romaine is operated by Moran Towing of Maryland. The company declined to allow the tug's captain, Lee L. Lowry Jr., to be interviewed yesterday.

Moran officials declined to comment on the collision, which occurred next to or inside a shipping channel between the Francis Scott Key Bridge and Fort McHenry.

An amateur cameraman who videotaped the rescue in the aftermath of the collision said another Moran tug harassed sailing enthusiasts in September when a tugboat captain cursed the sailing crews and created huge wakes by speeding through the racing course.

"The captain shouted obscenities and ran up and down the course, doing '360s', and threw a wash you wouldn't believe," said Robert Leedy, who has been taping the races for the last three years. He said he has a tape of the 1992 incident.

Yesterday, the captain of the Cape Romaine underwent a federally mandated drug test.

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Micahel Kearney, senior investigating officer for the port of Baltimore, said the investigation of the collision will take three to six months. "The rules of the road are very complicated, and we must determine conditions present at the time," he said. He said there was no probable cause to test the tug's captain for alcohol use because "he demonstrated no slurred speech, no smell of alcohol."

Agent Burton Israel of the city police marine unit said the Cape Romaine's crew plucked four of the six crew members from the 35-foot Lady Jane before it sank. He refused to identify the two sailors who were rescued by the Coast Guard.

Participants in the race claim the tug failed to sound proper warning while bearing down on the Lady Jane, which was under full sail.

The two eyewitnesses reached by The Sun contend the tugboat ventured at high speed into a clearly marked racing course, where competition has been held since 1988.

"The tug looked like it went after the sailboat. I could see some crew members in the tug laughing after it happened," said Richard Holden, a competitor in Tuesday's race and a witness to the collision.

"The tug should have given a signal but gave nothing. He was pushing a lot of water, going very fast," according to Thomas Butz, who said he saw the collision from another sailboat in the race, the Minden.

Under federal maritime law, a "steamship" more than 66 feet in length has right of way over all vessels, according to several sources familiar with maritime issues. The Cape Romaine is 105 feet long, city marine unit police said.

"A commercial vessel has right of way over a pleasure boat but not in all circumstances," said U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, 2nd District Republican and a member of the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee and former chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission.

"Other issues enter into it, but that can't be determined until the investigation is completed," she said.

The cause "really boils down to who had the right of way, who did not yield," said Agent Israel, adding: "Another ingredient is that the traffic in the harbor is unbelievable. It's just a matter of time before someone got injured. On the Fourth of July, the joke was there were so many boats in the harbor to see the fireworks you could walk from one side of the harbor to the other."

Kai Hansen, owner and tug captain of H & H Marine Towing Co., in Canton, said the waters have become so crowded with pleasure craft that "we're looking at one big marina, from here to Cape May."

William Hahn, a former commodore of the Baltimore City Yacht Association, said, "We've had our problems. I think it's gotten very dangerous out there, and it's been sort of a clash going back and forth between power boaters and sailing people."

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