NTSB Cites Captain’s Poor Judgment as Cause of Sydney Mae II Accident

January 16, 2006

In a report made public recently, the National Transportation Safety Board cited the captain’s decision to closely approach the Umpqua River bar during hazardous conditions as the cause of the September sinking of the Sydney Mae II off the coast of Oregon. The Board also noted that the failure of the captain to ensure that the passengers were wearing lifejackets during hazardous conditions contributed to the loss of life. Three people died in the accident.

“This accident is a tragic reminder of the importance of the Board’s recommendations that passengers wear lifejackets when rough bar warnings are in effect,” noted NTSB Acting Chairman Mark Rosenker. “Life jackets save lives. It’s very simple and it’s very important.”

On the morning of Sept. 19, 2005, the uninspected small passenger vessel, operated by Pacific Pioneer Charters, departed Winchester Bay, Oregon for a fishing trip. The captain and four passengers were on board. During the afternoon, sea conditions worsened, causing the captain to shorten the trip and head back to shore.

Because of the rough sea conditions, the U.S. Coast Guard restricted recreational and uninspected passenger vessels from crossing the Umpqua River bar. Despite the restrictions, the captain reportedly closely approached the bar and the Sydney Mae II was swamped and sank in the rough seas. None of the passengers was wearing a life jacket at the time of the accident.

The Sydney Mae II accident is of particular interest to the Board because of its similarity to the capsizing of the Taki-Tooo in 2003. Both accidents resulted in the loss of life because the vessel operators reportedly failed to require passengers to wear lifejackets during hazardous conditions.

The full report can be found on the Board’s Web site, www.ntsb.gov, under “Publications,” “Marine Accident Reports.”

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