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VIDEO: Mystery sinking solved ... or is it? - Soundings Online

VIDEO: Mystery sinking solved ... or is it?

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On March 24, 2009, the commercial scalloper Lady Mary was nearing the end of an early-season trip when its EPIRB automatically activated as the vessel began to sink 66 miles New Jersey.

Only one member of the seven-man crew was found alive.

The Coast Guard has issued its final report about the incident and a new documentary details the story behind the sinking, which some think was the result of a collision.

The 24-minute documentary was put together by the Star-Ledger, the New Jersey newspaper that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the accident and investigation.

The 278-page Coast Guard report, released Aug. 30, concluded that the Lady Mary sinking was the result of a “combination of numerous unsafe preconditions and a few unsafe decisions.” Chief among those preconditions were an open hatch on deck that allowed flooding as she operated in heavy weather and renovations made to the vessel over the years that contributed to structural instability.

“Additionally, a lack of training, lack of experience, language barriers, fatigue, vessel loading, drug use, insufficient watertight integrity, compromised vessel subdivision and weather all played a role,” the report says.

The Coast Guard’s findings are contrary to the views of maritime experts the Star-Ledger interviewed in 2010 during the paper’s seventh-month investigation. The experts suspected that the Lady Mary was likely the victim of a collision with another vessel.

In its report, the Coast Guard also concludes that “based on a preponderance of the evidence, the Lady Mary was not involved in a collision.”

Click here for the Star-Ledger’s latest report. It includes links to the documentary, which is worth watching when you have the time, and the complete Coast Guard report.

There also was an 87-minute delay in the Coast Guard’s search for the Lady Mary due to a clerical error in the registration of the vessel’s EPIRB. The unique 15-character identification code embedded in beacon’s signal differed by one character from the code assigned to the 71-footer in the NOAA database, according to testimony at a Coast Guard inquiry in 2009.

Because of that discrepancy, when the EPIRB activated and sent its alert signal to a NOAA computer via satellite, the computer couldn’t find the EPIRB’s identifier code in the database, so it classified the beacon as “unregistered.” The beacon was not equipped with GPS, so it couldn’t transmit its own position. It had to rely on satellites to figure out where it was.

Soundings’ coverage of the Lady Mary sinking

EPIRB error hinders rescue response

Mystery: What sank the Lady Mary?

Lady Mary sinking: boaters should take heed