Seaport Taxi back on water - with limits

Coast Guard requests internal safety review

March 18, 2004|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Seaport Taxi, which halted its water shuttle service after a capsizing March 6 that killed five people, resumed limited routes around Baltimore's Inner Harbor yesterday.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard has asked the taxi service's parent organization, the nonprofit Living Classrooms Foundation, to conduct an internal safety review, federal officials said. The internal review is separate from the investigation being conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board.

"Like any responsible organization, which we are, we are reviewing our practices and procedures in light of the Seaport Taxi tragedy," said Andy Murray, director of the foundation's National Historic Seaport, which runs the Seaport Taxi.

Neither Murray nor a spokesman for the Coast Guard would discuss which parts of the service are being reviewed. But Murray added that it's still "to be determined" when the pontoon boats will resume service to Fort McHenry, the route on which the Lady D capsized.

The 36-foot boat was carrying 23 tourists and two crew members from the historic site across the northwest harbor toward Fells Point when it was flipped by a fast-moving storm. Rescuers pulled 22 people from the water and two died. Three others were swept away; their bodies were recovered this week.

Lt. Andrew Ely, a spokesman for the Coast Guard, said his agency did not force the Seaport Taxi to halt service. The guard did not issue a written order to the organization to conduct an internal safety review.

"The Seaport Taxi was asked by the Coast Guard, given the severity of the accident, to conduct what I call a `safety stand down' after the incident, an internal safety discussion," Ely said.

"They basically got all of their captains together to talk about what happened ... and to ask, `Can we do anything to be more vigilant? Can we do anything to be even more careful?'" Ely said.

Lauren Peduzzi, a spokeswoman for the NTSB, said yesterday that among the many questions investigators are studying is how far off shore the Lady D was when it capsized.

The Lady D's permit from the Coast Guard allowed it to run from Fells Point to Locus Point, near Fort McHenry, but "under reasonable operating conditions" and "not more than 1,000 feet from shore."

"The Coast Guard asked the Living Classrooms Foundation to look at this accident and see if there are any lessons to be learned," Peduzzi said. "But the Coast Guard did not tell them to stay off the water. They did that on their own."

The foundation decided to conduct the internal review immediately after the capsizing, even before the Coast Guard's request, Murray said.

The organization conducts this kind of review every year, but decided to move it up because of the tragedy, Murray said.

At noon yesterday, one of the Seaport Taxi's larger boats, the 50-foot Migeni, resumed limited service around the Inner Harbor. Among its stops were Fells Point, HarborPlace and the Maryland Science Center, Murray said. The Seaport Taxi has 11 boats and expects to slowly expand service over the next several months, as the weather improves.

"It was a cold day, but we did have some passengers," Murray said. "Our captain reported that some of them said that they were happy that we're back and they're glad to support our service."

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