January 15, 2013

Portland fireboat going 14 knots before crash

The city's report to the Coast Guard on the 2011 incident also says the vessel was in an area with known hazards.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

The MV City of Portland IV fire boat in Portland on October 19, 2011. The city's fireboat was traveling at 14 knots through an area of Casco Bay with known hazards when it hit an underwater object near Fort Gorges in 201x1, sustaining more than $50,000 worth of damage.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Related Documents

PDF: U.S. Coast Guard accident report

According to a brief handwritten narrative in the accident report by Pendleton, the deputy fire chief, the crew stopped making headway after hitting the object, made sure the vessel was not taking on water and ensured that none of the 12 passengers was injured.

Pendleton wrote that the boat hit a "submerged object" and that the accident was a result of "poor choice of course."

Also, he wrote, "pilot inattention to navigational aids contributed to the accident."

Barrow, the Coast Guard lieutenant, said the channel between Fort Gorges and Little Diamond Island is heavily traveled. The shipwreck is outside the federally marked navigation channel that is considered a safe passage.

Barrow said it is not uncommon or illegal for mariners to go outside the marked channel, but they must use caution and consider the tide and their vessel's draft.

"It all comes back to mariners practicing good seamanship," he said.

Peter Bryant, a retired merchant mariner who is a licensed pilot in Portland Harbor, was surprised to hear how fast the fireboat was going in an area of marked obstructions so close to low tide.

"Oh my God," he said. "He was going way too fast. He was going as if he was in the channel."

Bryant said the information about the route of the fireboat that day makes him skeptical about the city's claim that the two firefighters and 12 civilians were on a training run.

"They weren't on a training run," he said. "They were taking their friends on a tour of the harbor."

Capt. Harold Cushing Jr. owns and operates House Island Tours, which takes visitors to House Island and Fort Scammel during the summer. He has been a licensed captain since 1967.

"The shipwreck is quite well known" to mariners, he said after being told that the fireboat passed through that area. "I avoid that area as best as possible because of the wreck. ... It's not a friendly area to tour. It's like a ship graveyard out there."

Cushing said he is surprised that the fireboat was traveling at 14 knots through the area.

"They were clipping right along," he said. "Going 14 knots with a bigger boat, you have to pay attention because you can run over things real fast."

Cushing, who delivers mail and freight to Cushing Island, said his mail boat, the St. Croix, goes no faster than 10 knots on mail runs. His other boat averages 7 knots.

Phineas Sprague, a licensed captain who owns Portland Yacht Services, said the public should cut the fire department some slack because many boats have hit the shipwreck or run aground there.

Sprague said many lobstermen fish around the wreck. Lobster buoys on the surface can give a mariner the impression that the area is deep and safe to use.

"Their mistake was (the firefighters) should not have been in that area," Sprague said.

It was the second time that the $3.2 million fireboat was damaged in Casco Bay.

In November 2009, the vessel hit a ledge in Whitehead Passage, between Peaks and Cushing islands. The repair bill was $90,000.


Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:


Twitter: @randybillings


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