Tour boat and Coast Guard 24-footer collide off Miami Beach

  A Coast Guard rescue boat and a sightseeing passenger vessel collided in January off Miami Beach, catapulting two Coast Guardsmen overboard and injuring nine other people.

Officials said the 24-foot rigid-hull Coast Guard boat was on routine safety patrol in clear and calm conditions at about 2000 on Jan. 12, when it collided with Bayside Blaster, a 65-foot passenger vessel. Bayside Blaster, which is owned by Island Queen Cruises Inc. of Miami, was on a sightseeing tour of Millionaires Row, a stretch along Miami’s Biscayne Bay that features the homes of the rich and famous.

National Transportation Safety Board Spokesman Keith Holloway said the NTSB has interviewed passengers and crew, has pored over the operations records of both vessels and is awaiting the results of toxicology tests. Investigators weren’t even sure which boat ran into the other.

‘There are some mixed reports on that,’ Holloway said. ‘That is information that will help us sort this all out.’

Coast Guard Petty Officer Anastasia Burns said the Coast Guard boat was being operated by two petty officers. When the boats collided, the two were thrown from the boat into the bay.

‘They swam to shore,’ Burns said. ‘There was nobody driving the boat, and it went in a circle and hit the Bayside Blaster again.’

Both petty officers sustained injuries and were treated at a Miami Beach hospital and released. A hospital spokesman said after the accident that one sustained a knee injury and the other came close to drowning. Nine of Bayside Blaster’s 53 passengers complained of injuries and three were treated at a hospital and released.

Bayside Blaster sustained heavy damage and will be sidelined for weeks, an Island Queen employee said. The Coast Guard boat was being surveyed to assess its damages.

Besides the NTSB and the Coast Guard, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Miami Beach Police Deptartment are investigating the accident, Burns said.

Holloway said the NTSB is also looking to see if speed played a role in the accident and whether the vessels had their lights on.

‘There have been reports from witnesses about lights not being on,’ he said. ‘But we haven’t made a determination on that yet.’

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Ron LaBrec, public affairs officer for the Seventh Coast Guard District, said the crewmembers’ life jackets prevented more serious injuries.

‘That lesson should not be lost on other boaters,’ he said.

By Professional Mariner Staff