Coast Guard completes investigation into fatal collision between USCG cutter and fishing vessel off Puerto Rico

The US Coast Guard Atlantic Division has finalized its investigation into the fatal collision between a US Coast Guard cutter and a small fishing vessel off Puerto Rico last year.

The collision occurred around 1:45 p.m. on August 8, 2022 about four miles northeast of Dorado, Puerto Rico USCGC Winslow Griesser (WPC 1116) and the 23 foot ship Desakata with two people on board. One of the people on the street died in the collision Desakata and the other was injured.

Vice Admiral Kevin E. Lunday, commander of the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Region, called a full investigation into the incident on August 11, 2022.

The chairman of the Committee of Inquiry into Serious Incidents found that the accident was caused by the fact that neither the nor the … USCGC Winslow Griesser nor the Desakata saw each other and therefore failed to take appropriate action that could have prevented the collision or lessened the severity of the collision.

The report details a number of factors that contributed to the ships not seeing each other and avoiding a collision, leading to this unfortunate accident.

In a noteVice Admiral Lunday, explained the findings of the MII Board and described the Desakata as an evasive ship in a crossing situation with the Winslow Griesser, which was on the starboard side of the fishing vessel. This serves as an alternative ship Desakata had a responsibility to take early and substantial action to stay away from that Winslow Griesser.

The MII board figured that out Desakata had failed to keep a proper lookout but could not objectively determine whether or not this was the case Winslow Griesser kept a proper lookout. Rather, the facts provided sufficient evidence that the cutter actually failed to maintain an adequate lookout that would have enabled its crew to see the ship Desakata take timely action to avoid the collision. The Board also noted that both vessels were not maintaining a safe speed.

Despite the determination that the Desakata was the evading vessel, “the cutter’s failure to keep a proper lookout and maintain a safe speed prevented critical actions by the cutter’s crew that could ultimately have prevented the collision or minimized the consequences,” the memorandum said.

“The public has a right to expect the Coast Guard, as professional seafarers, to uphold and emulate the highest standards of prudent seamanship and navigation. We have not done so here, with tragic consequences for the public we serve. We will do better,” Vice Admiral Lunda said in his memorandum.

The purpose of this USCG investigation is to determine any claims in favor of or against the United States, and any punitive or adverse administrative action that should be taken against any person whose negligence or wrongdoing contributed to the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board, in cooperation with the Coast Guard, also called an independent investigation into the collision to determine the cause of the accident and make recommendations for preventing similar incidents in the future.

As a result of the collision, the commander of Winslow Griesser, Lt. Cmdr. Benjamin Williamsz was temporarily relieved of his duties.

Based on the findings of that investigation, Rear Admiral David C. Barata, commander of the Coast Guard Personnel Services Center at Coast Guard Headquarters Washington, DC, permanently fired Williamsz as commanding officer on May 9, 2023, citing a loss of confidence in Williamsz’s ability to serve as the command cutters effectively.

Williamsz was recently transferred to his new duty station in Washington state. Lt. Vincent Deegan has taken permanent command of the cutter.

You can read a copy of the US Coast Guard’s latest Action Memo and MII Report Here.

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