When an emergency occurs on the water, most mariners know to call the Coast Guard for help on channel 16 of their marine radio. Our boat crews and aircrews are maritime first responders, saving lives and property at sea.
What happens after a maritime tragedy? How do we keep it from happening again?
Enter the Coast Guard’s Marine Investigators. These teams gather evidence, talk with those involved in the incident, and sometimes make recommendations for new policies, regulations, or laws to improve safety at sea.
Each year the Coast Guard announces the Congressman James Sener Award of Excellence in Marine Investigations. The award recognizes marine investigative teams, and creates an opportunity to educate Coast Guard personnel on the value of our Marine Investigations Program. The award is also an opportunity to share best practices in the marine investigation field.
Three teams were recently recognized with the 2019 Congressman James Sener Award of Excellence in Marine Investigations. Two teams received platinum awards for investigating the sinking of a commercial fishing vessel, each case resulting in the loss of multiple lives. One team received the gold award for outstanding investigative work on incidents that do not reach the Major Marine Casualty level.
Investigation team for the fishing vessel Destination wins one of two platinum level awards
The first team recognized at the platinum level investigated the case involving the commercial fishing vessel Destination. The Marine Investigation team consisted of Cmdr. Randy Preston, Cmdr. Tamara S. Wallen, and Lt. Cmdr. Pedro Mendoza.
The Seattle-based Destination went missing February 7, 2017, while crab fishing in the Bering Sea. Early that morning the Coast Guard received a distress signal from the ship and launched a search for the vessel. That search lasted for three days, locating only debris from the lost Destination. There were no survivors.
According to the Marine Board of Investigation’s report, Preston’s team scrutinized all recovered debris, spoke with witnesses, and finally made multiple recommendations to prevent an incident like the Destination from occurring again.
“It’s an honor to be recognized for our hard work and to share this award with the Marine Board of Investigation Team,” Preston said. “The investigation team worked tirelessly to determine the factors of the accident with the ultimate goal to improve safety and prevent future marine casualties. Hopefully, our investigation provided closure for the family members of the mariners that perished in the tragic accident.”
Misty Blue investigative team also wins platinum
Lt. Lynn Schrayshuen led the second team recognized at the platinum level. The team also included Lt. Cmdr. Amanda Styles, Lt. Cmdr. Corinne Plummer, Chief Warrant Officer Jean-Pierre Freeman, Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Shipperley and Mr. Michael St. Louis. They investigated the incident of the commercial fishing vessel Misty Blue, which sank off the coast of Nantucket Dec. 4, 2017. Two crewmembers died, and two were rescued.
“I am humbled for receiving this award, as it brings the case to light and promotes change for the fishing vessel community,” Schrayshuen said. “Although it is odd to be rewarded for a casualty that resulted in the death of two people, we knew there was a lot of evidence to collect [and] we wanted to make sure the U.S. Coast Guard could provide closure to the families in a difficult case.”
And the Gold Award goes to …
The criteria for the Gold level award highlights outstanding investigative work completed on incidents that do not reach the Major Marine Casualty level.
Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Shipperley and his team members, Lt.Cmdr Corinne Plummer, Lt. Mark Svencer, Mr. Michael St. Louis, and Chief Warrant Officer Aaron Vanhuysen, received the gold award for investigating the 2017 crash of the high-speed ferryboat Iyanough. The Iyanough crashed into the Hyannisport sea wall June 16, 2017, with 51 people aboard. There were multiple injuries.
“The significance of the award is validation of the hours of effort and the quality of that effort that the investigative team dedicated to the marine casualty,” Plummer said. “The investigative team, led by Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Shipperley’s exhaustive efforts, continued to peel back layers of the casualty for months following its occurrence. I truly believe that [this] investigation resulted in changes to company policies and industry norms that will result in safer navigational practices for vessels that carry thousands of passengers every year, thus saving countless lives.”
The awardees’ investigative contributions will offer marine safety improvements that may live beyond their careers. This is a true testament of the work Coast Guard does on a daily basis for the marine community and our nation. Congratulations to all of the awardees.
“Investigations are always a team effort and require a lot coordination, interviews, collection of evidence, and analysis of data by other Coast Guard units,” Styles added. “There is a trust the command places in the investigatory team to gather all the data and a lot of group analysis to ensure we can write the most comprehensive report.”
Known as the protectors of the sea, as maritime first responders, we answer the call to emergencies on the water, saving lives, saving property. Once the search is over, the marine investigators collect the evidence in an attempt to determine what happened, and maybe try to prevent it from occurring in the future. These are just few of the missions we as Coast Guard members take part in every day.