Search and rescue glitches

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The late Matteo Russo and his father-in-law, John Orlando, in May, 2008. Both men were lost when the F/V Patriot sank 15 miles southeast of Gloucester. The Coast Guard has been criticized for delays in initiating search and rescue efforts. (Peter K. Prybot)


U.S. Coast Guard efforts to search for a missing fishing boat in January were hampered by a lack of proper access codes for the Coast Guard watchstanders to consult a computerized vessel monitoring system. F/V Patriot ultimately sank for unknown reasons 15 miles southeast of Gloucester, Mass., on Jan. 3, 2009. Both crewmembers were killed in the accident.

According to the Coast Guard, a fire alarm signal from Patriot to a private alarm company was received at 1:45 a.m. and was relayed to the Gloucester Fire Department. Twenty minutes later when firefighters discovered that the vessel was not in port, the captain’s wife contacted the Coast Guard advising them that she was unable to contact her husband by cell phone. About an hour later, after confirming that the vessel was not in port the Coast Guard tried to determine the vessel’s position using National Marine Fisheries Service tracking data and radio signal data from the vessel’s fire alarm. Finally, at about 3:52 a.m. the Coast Guard responded to the scene with a 47-foot and an 87-foot coastal patrol vessel. Patriot was not to be found.

USCG Capt. Gail Kulisch, commander of Sector Boston said that the delays in the Coast Guard response came in an unorthodox manner. Kulisch also said that Coast Guard personnel made several unsuccessful attempts to use a computerized vessel monitoring system to locate the 54-foot dragger, but failed at first because they did not have proper computer access codes.

The cause of the sinking is unclear. The bodies of the two crewmembers were found, but showed no sign of a fire. The Coast Guard is investigating the possibility that the sinking involved a collision and is examining the tow line of a tug and barge that was operating in the vicinity of the Patriot’s last known position.