Coast Guard criticized over failure to use Vessel Monitoring System

Massachusetts legislators are questioning why Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) technology&mdashwhich is used to track fishing vessel activities and ensure regulatory compliance&mdashwas not harnessed more effectively in search-and-rescue operations for the Gloucester-based fishing vessel Patriot, which sank earlier this year, killing two.  Coast Guard dispatchers lacked the experience to use the system effectively, delaying the deployment of rescue teams.

From the Gloucester Daily Times:

Maggie Mooney-Suess, NMFS’ public information officer in Gloucester, said that while the technology is managed and housed with NMFS, the Coast Guard has easy access to the tracking data.

“They can sit down at the computer terminal and can access information the same as we can,” she said.

Except, on Jan. 3, the Coast Guard couldn’t. In the early hours of that Saturday morning, the Patriot went down, claiming the lives of Capt. Matteo Russo, 36, and his father-in-law, John Orlando, 59.

The Coast Guard’s Sector Boston, which took management of the problem posed by the Patriot once it became certain that Russo and Orlando had taken it fishing, was “puzzled” by the VMS system, and made several unsuccessful attempts to access it, according to Sector Boston’s commander, Capt. Gail Kulisch.

The difficulty using the vehicle monitoring system added further delay to the response, which extended for nearly 21/2 hours between the call to Coast Guard Station Gloucester by Josie Russo, the wife and co-owner of the Patriot with her husband. Josie Russo was convinced that a fire alarm on the boat, which was received by radio, combined with an inability to reach her husband or her father, Orlando, was a worrisome combination.

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By Ocean Navigator