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Cleared in accident. Chile pays anyway

Jan 1, 2003

A collision on the West Coast between a classic yacht and a Chilean submarine in September 1994 resulted in a financial award for the yacht's captain from the Chilean Navy, despite the fact that a Coast Guard investigation found the yacht captain at fault in the collision.

Built in 1939, the wood-hulled yacht Moonglow, being operated single-handedly by the owner, collided with the Chilean submarine Thomson in heavy fog on September 11, 1994, in a busy shipping lane near Vancouver, B.C.

Although the yacht captain was not required by law to monitor the Vancouver Vessel Traffic System, doing so would have indicated the presence of the submarine, which was operating on the surface and making continual position reports with VTS.

A Canadian Coast Guard report concluded that the yacht captain failed to keep a proper lookout and was at least a mile from his intended position. The captain, who was on the foredeck securing the jib seconds before the collision, believed himself to be north of the shipping lane but was actually crossing the lane against the flow of traffic, according to reports.

Officers of the German-built, diesel-electric Thomson were reportedly plotting the submarine's course every few minutes by DGPS and radar. The 50-foot wooden yacht was not detected by radar, despite being equipped with a reflector mounted in the rig. Several seconds before the collision, one of the submarine's two lookouts reported the presence of the yacht at very close range on the port side, and the conning tower officer immediately ordered port full rudder and the engines full astern.

The submarine's bow struck the yacht's starboard quarter at a 30° angle, according to reports, and the yacht disappeared in the fog. Moonglow filled with water and quickly sank, and the captain clung to floating debris until being rescued by the Chilean crew.

The Chilean government awarded the captain an unspecified sum for the loss of his vessel in December 1996. "I don't think they wanted the bad press," said a National Transportation Safety Board official in Ottawa. "But the operator of Moonglow was clearly at fault."


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