Chesapeake Bay pilot blamed in grounding of ship in 2007

His inattentiveness cited in Coast Guard report on incident

January 31, 2008|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,Sun reporter

The Chesapeake Bay pilot who was guiding a coal carrier that ran aground last year failed to communicate properly with his crew and was not paying attention when the vessel became stuck in shallow waters near Tilghman Island, according to a Coast Guard report released yesterday.

The report did not identify the pilot, who is one of 70 elite mariners charged with leading ships safely down a 150-mile stretch of water that is filled with wrecks, unmarked shoals and unforgiving shallow spots.

It blamed the pilot for taking on the assignment of steering a large vessel that he had never worked on when he had gotten only three hours of sleep the night before the MV Montrose ran aground.

The pilot told Coast Guard investigators that he usually gets six hours of sleep but was attending to personal matters instead.

"By his own admission, he states that he should have been sleeping as opposed to staying awake with his girlfriend's children," the report said. "This inadequate amount of rest contributed to the attention failures on the part of the pilot. We conclude that this lack of attentiveness caused him to miss the prescribed turn."

The 712-foot ship, loaded with coal, was stuck for a week after it ran aground in February. The ship was bound for Romania.

It was not clear whether the pilot was asleep at the time of the grounding, but witnesses told the Coast Guard that he was "very still" in his chair and that the vibrations from the grounding roused him from his "sedentary state."

The ship's mate, who was steering at the time, told Coast Guard officials that he suspected the pilot had made a mistake but did not want to challenge him.

The pilot had set a tone with his "strong personality," the report said, telling the crew members that he had more than 30 years of experience.

He failed to conduct a navigational briefing, the report said.

The pilot had a laptop equipped with a global positioning system, the report said, but was using radar and buoys as his primary means of navigation.

An officer with the Association of Maryland Pilots would not identify the pilot or say whether he is still working on the bay.

rona.kobell@baltsun.com

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