The Coast Guard charged Captain Wright Gres, the operator of the Sara Kaitlin at the time of the accident, with negligence and misconduct. Specifically, the Coast Guard charged that the Captain: (1) did not take due care to ensure the boom could safely pass beneath the bridge, (2) operated beyond the scope of his license and (3) failed to immediately report the collision, as required by Coast Guard regulations. As part of the settlement agreement approved by an Administrative Law Judge, Gres agreed to a six month suspension of his license and will attend a Coast Guard approved Bridge Resource Management class.
The Sara Kaitlin departed Charleston Harbor on the evening of April 25. The Sara Kaitlin was part of a multi-vessel tow that was hired to move the crane barge MOBRO 139 and associated equipment to Savannah, Ga. The vessels safely navigated the Cooper and Ashley Rivers in Charleston, S.C., through Wappoo Creek and continued south via the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. Between Charleston and Beaufort, the tow was stopped and the crane was used to reposition anchoring posts, or spuds, on one of the other barges in the tow. At approximately 7:30 p.m., the crane’s boom struck the underside support beams near the center of the McTeer Bridge breaking the towline and damaging the bridge.
While the investigation revealed that none of the Coast Guard licensed personnel had operated the crane, the Coast Guard’s follow-on enforcement actions focused on the tug operators’ overall responsibility for safe navigation.
“The Captain’s failure to complete a thorough voyage plan and failure to maintain situational awareness during the trip, especially the crane’s vertical clearance in relation to the charted height of a bridge, contributed to this casualty,” said Lt. Andrew Bender, the senior investigations officer at Coast Guard Sector Charleston.
Coast Guard regulations require the operator, owner or master to make immediate notification to the Coast Guard following a casualty. The Coast Guard first learned of the collision from state and local officials who reported it to the Sector Charleston Command Center.
“The prompt actions taken by the Beaufort County Emergency Operations Center, local officials and the South Carolina’s Department of Transportation ensured the public safety in the wake of this accident and secured key evidence for our investigation,” according to Capt. Mike McAllister, commander of Coast Guard Sector Charleston.
In addition to the suspension of Capt. Gres’ license, Coast Guard Sector Charleston has recommended Savannah Marine Services be fined up to $75,000 for: (1) negligent operations of their vessel Sara Kaitlin, (2) employing an individual to operate beyond the scope of his Coast Guard issued license and (3) operating on a voyage of greater then 24 hours with only one properly credentialed mariner. The final assessment of fines will be determined by a Coast Guard Hearing Officer upon review of the evidence. As part of a settlement agreement with one of the company owners, the Coast Guard levied an enhanced monitoring program of Savannah Marine Services’ hiring practices to ensure that they employ only properly licensed mariners.
Coast Guard Headquarters will make the casualty investigation report available to the public after the completion of a routine internal administrative review.