Tangled gear may have doomed boat

May 4, 2009 11:21:53 AM PDT
A scallop boat that sank in March, killing six people, might have been doomed when its dredging gear got tangled with another boat or something on the sea floor, the boat owner's lawyer said Monday. Stevenson Weeks Sr., who represents Capt. Royal Smith Sr., revealed his theory for a possible cause during a Coast Guard hearing examining what caused the Lady Mary to sink about 60 miles off Cape May on March 24. Smith lost two sons in the wreck.

Weeks, a marine lawyer, based his conclusion on video of the ship, now sitting on the ocean floor under 200 feet of water, taken by a remotely piloted undersea vehicle.

The video shows the boat's dredge - a heavy steel bar and metal rings connected to a nylon mesh net - still laden with scallops and resting on the ship's deck.

The dredge cable was not connected to the dredge, raising the possibility it might have gotten snagged on something, pulling the ship down, Weeks said. The vessel did not flip over, but settled to the bottom stern-first, another sign that a snag may be the cause, he said.

"We believe there may be some evidence of gear entanglement," Weeks said after testimony had ended for the day. "We don't know if it was with another vessel, or something on the bottom."

A Coast Guard spokeswoman declined to comment on Weeks' theory. The Guard is using the hearings to gather evidence on what caused the accident and will issue a report later. Video from the underwater vehicle is expected to be introduced into evidence later this week.

During testimony Monday, two Coast Guard officials said that for two to three hours after the Lady Mary is believed to have sunk, the Coast Guard heard no mayday calls or any other radio reports that something was wrong.

The lapse in time from when the boat is believed to have sunk - around 5 a.m. - and when the Coast Guard first heard something was wrong - around 7:30 a.m. - continued to be the focus of the inquiry, which was suspended in April to allow Smith time to hire a lawyer.

Lt. Tim Marriott, a search and rescue coordinator with the Coast Guard's Delaware Bay sector, was on duty the morning of March 24. It was not until about 8:15 a.m. that he heard a colleague mention that a helicopter had plucked a survivor from the ocean.

"That was the first I knew that something was going on," he testified. "The first thing I'm thinking is, `What happened this morning, and did we miss something?"'

But a review of radio transmissions found nothing to suggest anything was wrong, Marriott and Chief Petty Officer James Bell testified.

Marriott said he went back to review radio calls dating back to 4:30 that morning to look for a mayday or any radio chatter that would indicate a problem.

"I heard nothing," he testified.

Bell said that, after the fact, he listened to radio calls from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m., and also heard nothing. Satellite positioning and other data assembled after the sinking showed there were about 20 vessels within 6 miles of the Lady Mary at the time it sank.

The Coast Guard said previously it received a transmission from an emergency radio beacon around 7:30 a.m.

Aldo Guerino, a Coast Guard safety inspector, said he examined the Lady Mary in July. He termed it "a nice boat" and said it passed a safety inspection.

On Tuesday, the lone survivor from the seven-member crew, Jose Luis Arias, will testify.


NEW YORK AND TRI-STATE AREA NEWS

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