Grand Jury in Ethan Allen Deaths Issues Safety Recommendations

June 19, 2007

A list of recommendations for improving boating safety has been handed down by the grand jury examining the 2005 cruise line tragedy when a boat overturned on upstate NewYork’s Lake George, killing 20 elderly tourists.

According to the report issued last Thursday, the grand jury looking at the Ethan Allen case recommended every public vessel be certified for stability and structural integrity every 10 years, mandatory training for crew members, especially for emergency situations, and requiring life jackets — not just seat cushions.

The grand jury also concluded that Shoreline Cruises and boat captain Richard Paris could not be charged with criminal negligence because the capsizing could not be anticipated.

The 40-foot Ethan Allen carried 47 passengers and the captain when it suddenly tipped over on a clear, sunny day, sending screaming tourists into the Adirondack lake on Oct. 2, 2005.

The report from the grand jury focused on ensuring boat stability.

“The conclusion of the grand jury is that the issue of stability was the primary factor in the capsizing of the Ethan Allen. In light of the new weight standards, the Ethan Allen was grossly overcrowded,” the report reads.

When a stability test was conducted on Ethan Allen’s sister ship, the de Champlain, it was concluded only 14 passengers could fit safely on the boats, according to the report.

The Ethan Allen had 48 people on board the day it capsized.

The grand jury recommends:

Every public vessel be certified for stability and structural integrity prior to service and every 10 years. A new 174-pound weight standard must be used.

The results of those tests must be provided to the inspector at the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Certificates of inspection must include the date of the last stability test, and every public vessel should be required to prominently display certificates.

A vessel’s stability must be tested whenever it is modified.

Before a cruise begins, all public vessels must have the number of crew members on board as required by the inspection certificate. Any owner who violates the law will be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Crew members should be trained in fire fighting, life saving and operating the vessel. Crew must also be familiar with the vessel’s emergency response plan and take annual training courses. The operator must keep a record of training.

All masters, pilots, engineers and joint pilots and engineers must pass a test every five years before they are issued a license.

In the event of a serious boating accident, the operator must undergo a breath test.

All vessels must be equipped with the proper number of life vests.

The captain or crew must give safety instruction at the start of any departure, including location of life jackets, exits and fire extinguishers.

The state inspector should conduct unannounced and undercover inspection of public vessels.

On March 26, Shoreline Cruises and Paris each pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge, admitting there were not enough crew members aboard the Ethan Allen. State navigation law required at least two crewmen, but Paris crewed the boat alone.

In court papers, Shoreline and Paris have denied any negligence and maintained that a sudden wake swamped the boat.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board believe the 40-foot boat was rocked by a wake from a passing boat, or multiple boats. The grand jury heard conflicting testimony from survivors — some said there was no wake, others said it was six to eight inches.

The federal board concluded in 2006 that the boat was dangerously unstable and should have carried only a quarter of the passengers on board, although it was certified to carry 48 passengers plus two crew. State and federal weight limits have since been modified.


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