Probe: Pilot in Detroit River grounding lacked credential for the locale

The pilot of a cruise ship that ran aground in August 2012 near Detroit lacked a valid endorsement for those waters, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, which suspended the mariner’s license for six months.

The Coast Guard has also levied a $3,000 fine against V. Ships Leisure USA, operator of the 216-foot Yorktown, for not having a properly certified pilot on board.

V. Ships paid the fine in early December, within days of a Coast Guard Administrative Law judge’s decision to approve the six-month suspension, said Dave Cornett, chief of operations for Coast Guard Sector Detroit.

Yorktown was southbound en route to Cleveland with 120 passengers when it ran aground in the Detroit River near Fighting Island, Ontario, on Aug. 25. Cornett said the vessel — which has an eight-foot draft — left the channel and became hard aground in about five feet of water.

Nobody was injured and the vessel was not damaged. Yorktown was freed by a tugboat later that night. It was allowed to continue its journey early the next morning after passing an inspection.

The day before the accident, the pilot boarded Yorktown in Goderich, Ontario, to guide the vessel down the St. Clair and Detroit rivers, the Coast Guard said.

However, investigators later learned he had not completed a familiarization trip within the past 60 months as mandated by Coast Guard regulations. As such, the mariner’s First Class Pilot endorsement on his license was invalid “due to his failure to meet the regulatory currency of knowledge provisions,” the Coast Guard said.

Cornett and other investigators believe his lack of knowledge was a key contributing factor in the grounding, which occurred on a clear, calm night.

“He basically failed to maintain situational awareness with regard to his course, appeared to not know where he was at and was preoccupied with … call-in points,” Cornett said. “He thought he had missed a call-in point for a location he had not actually arrived at yet.”

“In essence, the second officer was given a landmark to steer on, and they continued along that course, and there should have been a call for a turn back into the channel … and that never occurred,” he added.

The Coast Guard is seeking to suspend the mariner’s license for negligent operations that resulted in the grounding of the vessel, and for serving as a pilot without a valid endorsement on his license, according to a news release.

Darrell Wilson, a spokesman for V. Ships Leisure USA, said the pilot was hired through an outside agency. At the time, the company didn’t know he wasn’t properly credentialed.

“V. Ships Leisure USA … has now included in its services agreement the responsibility for ensuring any future contracted pilots provide evidence of current knowledge required to be properly licensed for the area of operations,” he said in an e-mailed statement.

The company is a subsidiary of V. Ships, which has offices throughout Europe and is based on Isle of Man, in the British Isles, according to its website.

Yorktown is owned by Travel Dynamics International, which has declined to comment on the grounding. Tour operator Great Lakes Cruise Co. also has declined to discuss the incident.

By Professional Mariner Staff