Coast Guard releases final investigations of fatal Hawaii catamaran accidents

HONOLULU — The U.S. Coast Guard has released a Report of Investigation for each of two fatal catamaran cases that occurred less than four months apart two years ago in Hawaii waters.

A 13-year-old male passenger died aboard the Na Hoku II off Diamond Head Dec. 1, 2006, and a 48-year-old male passenger died aboard the Kiele V off Kaanapali, Maui, March 25, 2007.

The Coast Guard conducts a thorough investigation in any instance of a death or serious injury aboard a vessel. Both sailing catamarans were also subject to annual Coast Guard inspections because they sailed with six or more paying passengers.

“Our deepest sympathies are with the families of the victims,” said Capt. Barry Compagnoni, the U.S. Coast Guard Captain of the Port, Honolulu. “These very comprehensive investigations take time because ultimately, our goal is to ensure these kinds of accidents do not happen again. The investigations recommend some changes in the degree to which the Coast Guard inspects and regulates these types of vessels. We have already taken a number of steps to enhance our inspection process.”

Compagnoni spoke with the families of both victims Wednesday to discuss the Reports of Investigation.

In both cases, the masts of the sailing catamaran failed in strong winds and the victims were struck and killed by the collapsing masts. The cases raised questions regarding the adequacy of mast and rigging design, maintenance, surveys and inspections.

In April and May 2007, Coast Guard inspectors boarded all 59 inspected sailing vessels in Hawaii to conduct detailed examinations as a result of the two fatal cases. Of the 59 vessels inspected during that “surge operation,” 41 passed without discrepancies but discrepancies were uncovered in the remaining 18. Of those 18, 11 vessels were found to have serious deficiencies that required action before the Coast Guard would approve the resumption of sail operations.

When the fleet learned of the operation through a Marine Safety Information Bulletin, two operators elected to take their non-compliant sailing vessels out of service by converting them to motor-only operations.

In early 2008, the Coast Guard held a public session specific to sail rigging inspection during a Honolulu industry day. Thirty representatives of the passenger sailboat industry, several marine surveyors, and marine inspectors and investigators from Coast Guard Sector Honolulu and a member from Coast Guard headquarters’ Quality Assurance and Traveling Inspectors staff met in Honolulu to discuss best practices concerning rigging inspections.

In addition, in summer 2008, the Coast Guard developed — and distributed to sailing catamaran owners in Hawaii — a local policy guidance (called Sector Honolulu Inspection Note #13) that outlines an enhanced inspection regime for sail rigging, masts and associated components of inspected small passenger sailing vessels. Based on this collaborative process between the Coast Guard and industry, many additional inspection safeguards have been implemented.

“These tragedies highlighted a need for a more rigorous inspection and survey program,” said Compagnoni, the service’s Officer in Charge of Marine Inspection (OCMI) for Hawaii. “I spoke with both families yesterday and assured them that these accidents did not occur in vain.”

NOTE: Each Report of Investigation is available at www.uscghawaii.com

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