The U.S. Coast Guard has determined that rough seas caused a New York Harbor pilot boat to smash into the side of a ship as a pilot was preparing to board it, slightly injuring four on the smaller vessel.
But the Sandy Hook Pilots Association contends a mechanical problem played a part because the operator tried to reverse the engines and was unable to.
The Coast Guard investigator, Lt. Cmdr. Bill Grossman, said the accident occurred at about 1330 on March 18 as the 53-foot pilot boat Wanderer was coming alongside the inbound 984-foot cargo ship Luisa.
“There was a collision where four of the pilots who were on board were injured,” Grossman said. “One was brought to the hospital. The other three were treated at the pilot station at Edgewater on Staten Island.”
While the final investigation report has not been written, Grossman said, “at this point we don’t believe there was a mechanical failure.” He called the waves “fairly significant, 6 to 10 feet. And when the boat was coming alongside they were swept into the side of the vessel by a wave.”
Capt. Rick Schoenlank, president of the New Jersey Sandy Hook Pilots, said, “I think it was more than just a wave issue. We think it was a mechanical problem with the throttle assembly.
“Everything that everybody said led us to believe that an order was given to the engines through the throttles and they didn’t respond. We couldn’t conclusively prove that was it because we couldn’t replicate it. So we replaced it just as a precautionary measure.”
“It just goes to prove it’s a dangerous job,” Schoenlank said. “Those boats are designed and built to make landings all day long. They have a huge rub rail around them just for that purpose because occasionally you do get a hard hit. We do upward of 20,000 landings a year and most of them work out very well.”
He said minor damage to the rub rail was quickly repaired.
Alcohol tests were negative and the Coast Guard is awaiting results of the drug tests. “But we don’t have any reason to believe that it will come back positive,” Grossman said.
“At this point we don’t believe there was any negligence, misconduct or violation of our regs that resulted in the collision,” he said.