The Coast Guard is nearing the end of its probe into a fatal barge-recreational craft collision in western Long Island Sound in June, and the chief investigator says the agency is unlikely to take any action against the pleasure boater because the tug had enough room in the channel to steer around the smaller vessel.
The 24-foot pleasure boat was anchored in the channel south of the Execution Rocks Lighthouse while its occupants were fishing. The channel is at least a quarter-mile wide at that location. The 324-foot petroleum barge Patriot, owned by Seaboats Inc., of Fall River, Mass., is 75 feet wide.
Lt. Jake Hobson, of the Marine Casualty Investigations Office at Coast Guard Sector New York, said Seaboats, which owns the barge and tugboat pushing it, or their crews, could be penalized if pending tests by the Nassau County police lab prove the barge struck the pleasure boat.
The six crew on the tug and barge told investigators they were unaware of hitting another vessel. “They said they saw the fishing boat, but they believed it was entangled with or dealing with another pleasure vessel,” Hobson said.
The accident occurred June 10 when boat owner Raphael Rivera, 55, of the Bronx, was fishing with his girlfriend, Leibe Ociele Medina, 47, also of the Bronx, and brother, Efrain Rivera, 60, of Rhode Island. Raphael Rivera said he saw the tug Donald C pushing Patriot, which was en route from New York City to New Haven, Conn., when they were about 300 yards away. Rivera said he expected the barge to avoid his boat, but when it didn’t change course, he waved an orange life jacket and then jumped in the water with Medina.
After the impact, Rivera surfaced and saw Medina, who was wearing a life jacket, floating face down about 50 feet away. She died a week later.
Frank Floriani, a lawyer representing Medina’s family, said, “Our information is that the barge did not have a lookout.”
Kirk Lyons, the attorney representing Seaboats, said, “We cannot respond because the matter is under investigation.”
Hobson said, “We believe they were anchored on the southern side of the channel.” He said boats are not supposed to anchor in channels, but “where they were is not necessarily a narrow channel” and “as long as they are not impeding traffic,” it was not a problem. “They’re not professional mariners,” he added. “We hold the licensed mariner to a higher standard; they are operating a commercial vessel.”
Hobson would not divulge how many crew were serving as lookouts.