El Toro II was deemed unfit to sail

December 15, 1993|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff Writer

Three days before the El Toro II sank in the Chesapeake Bay killing three people, an insurance inspector reported that the boat "may be the worst Coast Guard-inspected boat I have seen," and declared it unfit to operate or carry people.

The 14-page report notes rotted wood inside the boat, fire hazards from both poor wiring and an engine battery left unsecured in an oil-soaked bilge, "terrible stowage" of life jackets, dry-rotted life jackets, and deteriorated hoses and structural bolts.

The report dated Dec. 2 notes the absence of an automatic bilge pump and an alarm to alert the captain of too much water in the bilge. Citing "long-term inattention" to maintenance, the report was marked as an exhibit yesterday for the inquiry being conducted in Baltimore by the Coast Guard into the Dec. 5 sinking of the El Toro.

Kim I. MacCartney of Chesapeake, Va., who inspected the boat on Nov. 29, said in a telephone interview yesterday that he would have immediately recommended the boat's sailing insurance be suspended, but he was led to believe by the wife of the boat's owner that the boat would not be going out again until spring.

"Had I known the vessel was still operating I'd have done things a whole lot differently," Mr. MacCartney said.

He did not know the El Toro II went out on the bay with 23 people on board until he saw a newspaper story about the sinking the day after the accident.

His first thoughts on hearing the news were "Jeez, what did I miss? What happened? What caused this to happen?"

Rather than waiting several days to type and file his report with the insurance company, he said he would have "told the underwriters to put [the boat] on port risk . . . immediately." Port risk means the boat would not have been insured if it left the pier.

The boat passed its annual Coast Guard inspection in April. Mr. MacCartney, a captain in the Coast Guard Reserve, said "I'm not going to make a judgment of the Coast Guard and Coast Guard inspections based on one vessel."

During the inquiry yesterday, officials of the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board heard from two marine surveyors, one retained by the owner of the boat, Joseph C. Lore, the other by a lawyer representing one of the men killed in the accident. Much of their testimony focused on planks on the boat's hull that pulled loose and the corrosion of the nails used to hold them in place.

The inquiry is being held to find the cause of the accident, but it could result in disciplinary action and changes in government procedures and regulations if the Coast Guard believes that could prevent such accidents from recurring.

Mr. MacCartney is expected to testify Thursday, said Coast Guard Cmdr. Glenn Anderson, who is conducting the investigation.

Neither Joseph C. Lore, or his son, Clayton S. Lore, who was captain on the day of the accident, have seen the report, said their lawyer, J. Paul Mullin of Baltimore.

Mr. Mullin would only say that the wording of the report is "unusual."

Alongside 14 photographs illustrating the report, Mr. MacCartney wrote several notes. He described the engine compartment as "filthy," and noted "wiring should never look like this . . . Or like this. Somewhere in this glop is a bilge pump."

Joseph C. Lore, who is still recovering from injuries suffered in the accident, declined to come to the phone when a reporter called his home late yesterday afternoon. Clayton S. Lore, at the inquiry, declined to comment on the report.

Mr. MacCartney examined the boat while it was still in the water, hence he could not inspect the bottom of the 58-foot vessel's wooden hull. Preliminary state and federal investigations of the sinking have found that three planks on the bottom port side pulled loose, allowing water to rush into the boat.

In a statement released yesterday, Maryland Natural Resources Police said that their investigators believe the planks loosened "as a result of the deterioration of the nails that secured the planks to the keel."

Neither Joseph nor Clayton Lore was at the dock in Ridge, St. Mary's County, when Mr. MacCartney spent about 3 hours inspecting the El Toro II, a diesel-powered boat built in 1961. Mr. MacCartney wrote in his report that Joseph Lore "knew that I was coming at 3 p.m. I arrived a half-hour early and caught him and his son driving away. They told me the boat was open and I could do whatever needed to be done."

Mr. MacCartney, who works for CIGNA insurance, a Philadelphia-based company, said it's "very, very unusual for the owner not to be there" during an inspection, or not to call afterward to learn what the inspector found. He said he never heard from Mr. Lore, who owns Chesapeake Bay Fishing Parties, Inc.

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