LI boat crash sparks Coast Guard navigation aid review
The boat crash that killed three people off Seaford earlier this month has spurred a review by the U.S. Coast Guard of how it keeps track of navigational buoys.
The review comes as the agency has learned that it overlooked several notifications that two navigation aids near the crash site had been removed by the Town of Hempstead in the 1980s.
Earlier this month, the attorney for the estate of the boat operator killed in the Oct. 4 crash - George Canni - blamed the accident on a missing buoy and "day beacon," a pole-mounted reflector sign. Authorities had determined that Canni was legally drunk and operating his 40-foot Hustler speedboat at high speed in the dark.
When it checked its records, Hempstead determined the two markers had been removed from the channel even though they appear on current navigation charts.
Despite the absence of the navigation aids for more than two decades, James Mercante, attorney for the Canni estate, said "the buoys are still identified on navigation charts and GPS computer charts that the mariner is relying on for nighttime navigation."
Christopher T. McGrath, attorney for Peter Sofia of Massapequa, who was injured in the accident, said the markers were not an issue: "Alcohol plus speed is no defense when you're in a boat or a car."
The Coast Guard first noted the missing markers in its Local Notice to Mariners after checking all channel markers following the crash that killed Canni, 65, of Copiague, his wife and a friend, and seriously injured four others.
The Coast Guard doesn't know why the town's information failed to reach the proper agency officials, said Coast Guard Cmdr. Kevin O'Ditt, who oversees the aids-to-navigation teams for Sector Long Island Sound, which covers Long Island waters. "We're reviewing that process," he said.
Hempstead waterways Commissioner Ron Masters said that 1984 is the last time the town can confirm that the markers were in place. Masters said the town mails or hand-delivers an updated list of navigation aids and their locations to the Coast Guard "when there are significant changes." The markers appear on the 1984 list but not on lists prepared in 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2008.
He said in late December last year or early this January, the latest list was hand-delivered to the Jones Beach station, but town employees never followed up to ensure the Coast Guard had recorded the changes.
O'Ditt confirmed the document had been received at Jones Beach but added "this list did not include any request for action by the Coast Guard."
The preferred and official methods of alerting the agency to changes in navigation aids is to fill out a special form and mail it to the Coast Guard First District in Boston or fill out a notification on a Web site used by harbormasters, O'Ditt said.
Lt. Erik Halvorson, spokesman for the First District, which includes Sector Long Island Sound, said that after the sector reviews its procedures, the agency will determine "if there are lessons that can be applied" throughout the Northeast or beyond. He said the Coast Guard in 2005 began an ongoing effort with help from volunteers to check the placement of the 4,506 navigation aids in the First District not maintained by his agency.
Masters said no one working currently for the town knows why the markers were removed.