Collision investigation finds Coast Guard, Navy at fault

A 60-foot U.S. Navy Special Warfare Combatant Craft Medium (above) was involved in a collision with a U.S. Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team 38-foot Special Purpose Craft.

An investigation into a Dec. 4 collision between a U.S. Coast Guard vessel and a U.S. Navy vessel in Kodiak has found that both were at fault. 

The joint Coast Guard and Navy investigation concluded on March 17 and found that both boats were at fault for “not operating in accordance with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea,” said Lt. Cmdr. Scott McCann, a spokesperson for the Coast Guard. 

Specifically, the Navy crew was at fault for not using navigation lights, and the Coast Guard crew was at fault for navigating “at a speed that prohibited the ability to take proper and effective action in the prevailing circumstances and conditions to avoid collision,” McCann said in an email. 

The collision — involving a 38-foot Coast Guard special purpose craft returning from training, and a 60-foot unlit, stationary Navy vessel used to support special operation forces — injured nine service members, including six from the Coast Guard and three sailors. 

The victims were transferred to the Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center for treatment..

According to the Coast Guard, the six Coast Guard personnel were treated and released the next morning for injuries that included head lacerations, concussions, a broken leg, a knee injury and an arm injury. The Coast Guard service members have since returned to work.

Two of the Navy personnel were released later, and one was transferred to a hospital in Anchorage for further care, McCann said. 

“Contributing factors to the collision include ... lack of effective lookouts, lack of effective use of radar, and loss of locational awareness, as well as the lack of communication and coordination between the USCG and the USN,” he said in the email statement. . 

Other contributing factors included the lack of an automatic identification system and ability for the crews of each vessel to communicate, as well as inadequate advanced planning. 

Both boats were damaged but were able to return to port. The cost of the damages amounted to $150,000 for the Coast Guard boat and $2.5 million for the Navy boat.

The accident occurred after sundown at 7:30 p.m. at the center of the Woman’s Bay channel, near the end of Nyman Peninsula.

During the night of the accident, the Navy Special Warfare Crew was completing a routine exercise to prepare service members for deployment, said Lt. Matthew Stroup, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Navy Special Warfare Command.  

Navy Special Warfare oversees the U.S. Navy SEALs, which regularly train in Kodiak. However Stroup could not confirm if the SEALs were involved in the collision. The Navy would not release details of the specific nature of the training due to operational security concerns. 

At the same time that the Navy was training in Womens Bay, the Coast Guard Aids to Navigation team was returning to port from a routine helicopter hoist training exercise. The crew members were navigating “a couple of knots faster than they usually go,” McCann said. 

Two of the six Coast Guard service members on board were in training. During helicopter hoist training, aviators practice hoisting people from boats. The training often includes at least one helicopter and a small boat. 

The Navy’s vessel was stationary and did not have its lights on “due to the nature of the training exercise,” McCann said. 

“The Coast Guard boat was traveling approximately 30 knots prior to the collision,” he wrote in an email statement.

At the speed Coast Guard boat was traveling, the coxswain was not able to detect an “unlit vessel in ample enough time to take action to avoid collision,” McCann said. 

The coxswain was familiar with the area and reportedly told investigators he had never seen a Navy boat operating inside Womens Bay.  

The investigation also found that neither boat was exactly where they intended to be when the collision occurred. The Coast Guard boat intended to be closer to the center of the channel and the Navy boat intended to operate outside of the channel.

This lack of “locational awareness” is due, in part, to the Navy’ focus “on a particular aspect of the training mission,” McCan said. He also noted that the Navy is less familiar with the area than local “maritime traffic.”

In addition, the coxswain of the Coast Guard boat was relying more on the buoys and knowledge of the area to navigate rather than on the boat’s electronic equipment. 

In addition, “the collision indicates that neither crew checked the radar in the minute leading up to the collision,” he said. 

McCann noted that larger boats typically have a designated person to constantly review the radar screen, but on smaller boats each crew member has multiple responsibilities, and therefore operating radar becomes more challenging. 

For crews to have effectively used their radar settings to see the other boat, the Coast Guard would have needed to check the radar every minute, while the Navy would have needed to check every 30 seconds. 

“The investigation found that the (U.S. Navy) crew member was focused on aspects of their mission just before their collision and not on their radar,” McCann said.  

With the conclusion of the investigation, the Coast Guard is reviewing if disciplinary action is needed. McCann said the Coast Guard will also review its navigation standards and policies to prevent similar collisions in the future. 

“The Coast Guard will hold individuals accountable and undertake the challenge of making systematic changes to prevent similar future incidents,” McCann said in the email. “Training operations in Womens Bay will continue with an elevated state of alertness for all possible maritime traffic and enhanced coordination between the USCG and the USN.”

According to the Navy, the Naval Special Warfare unit is taking all appropriate steps consistent with the findings of the investigation to ensure procedures and policies are in place to ensure a similar incident does not occur in the future. 

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