The following is the text of a press release issued by U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md.:
(WASHINGTON) — Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) convened the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation this morning, reviewing the Coast Guardâ€™s Search and Rescue (SAR) Mission in light of shortcomings identified in two recent SAR cases.
Many of the questions asked centered around two SAR incidents in which lives were lost. In a 2007 incident, a freighter collided with a fishing boat named the Buona Madre. The fisherman aboard the Buona Madre was found dead in the water a day after the Coast Guard ended its SAR case after mistakenly concluding that no collision had occurred. An eventual investigation showed that the Coast Guard did not use the â€œfull range of search and rescue resourcesâ€ in this case.
The second incident, earlier this year, saw a 54-foot fishing boat, the Patriot, sink near Gloucester, MA. In this case, it is likely that both of the individuals on the Patriot probably died and their vessel had sunk before the Coast Guard was even alerted to the existence of a possible crisis. However, the subsequent investigation of this SAR effort uncovered what the Coast Guard itself calls an â€œinefficientâ€ response that â€œrevealed several procedural, training, and judgment short-falls.â€
Coast Guard RADM Sally Brice-Oâ€™Hara discussed the impact that shortfalls in Coast Guard resources, particularly in personnel has had on the SAR program, including limiting the serviceâ€™s ability to convert some command positions from 24-hour watches to 12-hour watches. However, Brice-Oâ€™Hara emphasized the Coast Guard has taken action to address current shortcomings.
The USCG has extended the maritime search planning course at the National SAR School and introduced a Command Center training course for new Operations Unit Controllers. The Coast Guard is also adding more than 200 positions to strengthen Command Center staffing.
Congressman Cummings said, â€œThe SAR mission is one of the Coast Guardâ€™s most central missions â€“ and one that the service typically executes with exceptional efficiency. Shortcomings have been uncovered in the Coast Guardâ€™s management of this mission through the Buona Madre and Patriot cases. They are deeply troubling â€“ particularly as they point to relatively inexperienced personnel in Command Centers who lacked judgment and analytical skills critical to the Coast Guardâ€™s ability to manage complex SAR cases.
â€œI applaud the measures taken by the Coast Guard to increase the number of Command Center personnel and improve training to ensure adequate staffing with fully trained individuals. I know the Coast Guard will continue to thoroughly assess its performance of this mission and to respond decisively to any shortcomings it identifies. I will continue to fight to ensure this service has resources equal to the demands made of it. Those resources are particularly critical because every SAR case involves a life in imminent peril.â€