- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 26, 2009

BALTIMORE | A Coast Guard report on the 2004 capsizing of a Baltimore water taxi calls for an assessment of pontoon boats to find those at higher risk of overturning.

The Coast Guard released its final report Tuesday on the accident that killed five, which it said followed an unsafe decision to leave dock in the face of an approaching storm. The report also said the pontoon boat capsized as a result of multiple factors, including wind, waves, passenger weight and a decision to turn the boat into the wind.

It recommended assessing pontoon boats to identify the ones at an elevated risk of capsizing as a result of improperly conducted stability tests.

Even though the report took years to release, inspectors were told within months after the accident to begin assessing the stability of pontoon boats, said Capt. David Fish, chief of investigations and marine casualties for the Coast Guard.

Capt. Fish said he did not know why the report took so long to produce.

“We were slow at writing a report, but we were not slow in taking action,” he said.

The National Transportation Safety Board found in 2006 that the Coast Guard underestimated the risk of capsizing because it relied on stability-test results for similar, but not identical vessels.

The water taxi that overturned, the Lady D, had just left Fort McHenry on March 6, 2004, with 25 people on board when severe weather moved into the region. The vessel, run by Seaport Taxi, was one of several small water taxis on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor when it was struck by wind nearing 50 mph. Passengers clung to its overturned hull in frigid water as they awaited rescue.

The National Weather Service later concluded that its forecasters did not give timely warnings of the advancing storm.

The NTSB also said excessive passenger weight made the boat unstable and noted the Coast Guard also assumed the average weight per passenger was 140 pounds, a standard that hasn’t changed since 1942.

In the new report, Coast Guard investigators also recommended a review of assumed passenger weights. The commandant’s office agreed, noting recommendations have been issued raising the assumed weight per passenger to 185 pounds and new rules have been proposed incorporating an increase.

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