The death toll so far is 38 in a ferry accident in Hong Kong
Harbor. Five children were among the
dead. More than 100 people were taken to hospital, with nine suffering serious
injuries or in critical condition, the government said in a statement.
NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD Public Meeting of July 25, 2006 (Information subject to editing)
Report of Marine Accident Report Capsizing of New York State-Certificated Vessel Ethan Allen Lake George, New York, October 2, 2005 NTSB/MAR-06/03
This is a synopsis from the Safety Board’s report and does not include the Board’s rationale for the conclusions, probable cause, and safety recommendations. Safety Board staff is currently making final revisions to the report from which the attached conclusions and safety recommendations have been extracted. The final report and pertinent safety recommendation letters will be distributed to recommendation recipients as soon as possible. The attached information is subject to further review and editing.
On the afternoon of October 2, 2005, the New York State-certificated public vessel Ethan Allen, with a New York State-licensed operator and 47 passengers on board, departed the marina at Lake George, New York, for a cruise of the lake. The vessel proceeded northbound along the western side of the lake at an estimated speed of 8 mph. As it neared Cramer Point, the operator began a turn to the right. At the same time, the Ethan Allen encountered a wave or waves generated by one or more vessels on its starboard side. Within a few seconds, the Ethan Allen rolled to port and overturned. It began to sink several minutes later. Operators of recreational vessels nearby observed the accident, proceeded immediately to the site, and began rescuing survivors. The operator and 18 passengers survived without injury. Three passengers received serious injuries, 6 received minor injuries, and 20 received fatal injuries in the accident. The resulting damage to the vessel and its components was estimated at $21,000.
The Safety Board’s investigation of this accident identified the following major safety issues:
Stability standards and procedures for passenger vessels;
New York State’s use of manufacturer’s capacity plates to determine public vessel passenger loading; and
Regulation of New York State’s public vessels.
As a result of this investigation, the Safety Board makes recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard and to the State of New York.
Weather conditions were not a factor in this accident.
The attempt of the Ethan Allen operator to turn the vessel into the on-coming wake before the capsizing was a normal reaction to the circumstances, but not timely enough to be effective.
Operator fatigue was not a factor in this accident.
Because drug and alcohol testing of the Ethan Allen operator as not done in a timely manner, the toxicological analysis was inconclusive.
The Ethan Allen’s hull structure and steering and propulsion components were not factors in the accident.
At the time of the accident, the bilge might have contained, at most, an insignificant amount of water which would not have affected the Ethan Allen’s stability.
The addition, and subsequent modification, of a canopy changed the Ethan Allen’s stability characteristics.
Although U.S. Coast Guard regulations and New York State’s guidance to vessel owners did not contain clear requirements pertaining to testing after modifications, the Double Dolphin/Ethan Allen should have undergone a stability reassessment after each canopy installation and modification.
Because the Double Dolphin/Ethan Allen did not undergo stability assessments after the addition and modification of its canopies, it was certificated to carry too many passengers. The certificate of inspection permitted 48 passengers, but stability criteria should have limited the number to 14 passengers.
Although it was the Ethan Allen that was involved in this accident, the potential for capsizing was substantially the same for the de Champlain.
The combination of too many passengers, as permitted by the Ethan Allen’s inappropriate certificate of inspection, and the use of an out-of-date average weight standard for passengers on public vessels resulted in the Ethan Allen carrying a load that significantly reduced its stability, which made it more susceptible to capsizing on the day of the accident.
The Ethan Allen capsized as a result of insufficient stability, which made it unable to right itself from the combined forces of a passing wave or waves, a sharp turn, and the resulting involuntary shift of passengers to the port side of the vessel.
New York State’s reliance on manufacturers’ capacity plate data to determine maximum passenger limits on public vessels carrying more than six passengers for hire is an inappropriate use of the Coast Guard noncommercial boat standard.
New York State public vessel operators do not have a simple and ready means such as a mark on the hull to determine whether their vessels are overloaded.
For almost all of the passengers, survivability was not adversely affected by the presence of preexisting medical conditions.
The emergency response was timely and effective.
The postaccident actions of New York State to improve the level of safety of public vessels were prompt and, if implemented, will address issues identified in the accident investigation.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the capsizing of the Ethan Allen was the vessel’s insufficient stability to resist the combined forces of a passing wave or waves, a sharp turn, and the resulting involuntary shift of passengers to the port side of the vessel. The vessel’s stability was insufficient because it carried 48 persons where postaccident stability calculations demonstrated that it should have been permitted to carry only 14 persons. Contributing to the cause of the accident was the failure to reassess the vessel’s stability after it had been modified because there was no clear requirement to do so.
As a result of its investigation of the Ethan Allen accident, the National Transportation Safety Board makes the following recommendations:
To the U.S. Coast Guard:
Provide guidance to States on U.S. Coast Guard standards for and assessment of stability of small passenger vessels. (M-06-XX)
To New York State:
Address safety deficiencies identified in the investigation of the Ethan Allen accident and issue technical guidance to vessel owners on inspection requirements for modified vessels, stability assessments and criteria, means for determining maximum safe load condition, drug and alcohol testing, manning, and safety briefings. (M-06-XX)
Discontinue the use of capacity plate data associated with the U.S. Coast Guard’s noncommercial boating standards for determining passenger loading on public vessels that carry more than six passengers and adopt the U.S. Coast Guard’s small passenger vessel inspection standards. (M-06-XX)
Meanwhile, the ship owner continues to deny its negligence.
Defendants accused in the overturning of a boat that killed 20 elderly tourists last year on an Adirondack lake in New York argued in court papers they weren't at fault and the accident was caused by events beyond their control....
Attorneys for Shoreline Cruises and Captain Richard Paris deny any negligence, pointing instead to "an unforeseeable sudden emergency'' or to "an act of God.''
"It's our position that there was a wake that swamped the boat,'' said Fred Zinober, attorney for the company and captain. Paris told sheriff's investigators the same thing. The Ethan Allen was under its passenger limit of 50, had cruised before fully loaded and went out hundreds of times since it was modified and never had problems, he said.
Suit blames Coast Guard in Ethan Allen capsizing. Scarano Boat Building cites federal government's approval of boat's capacity
Add the United States Coast Guard to the list of those who might be to blame for the capsizing of the Ethan Allen and the deaths of 20 senior citizens. That's what attorneys for Scarano Boat Building have done in U.S. District Court by suing the U.S. government to hold the Coast Guard responsible for its 1966 approval of the Ethan Allen to carry 50 passengers.
Shoreline Cruises Inc. of Lake George and boat captain Richard Paris are claiming that the accident which claimed the lives of 20 senior citizens last October on Lake George was an “act of God” and could not have been prevented....Also named as a defendant is Scarano Boat Building Inc. of Saratoga Springs which performed modifications to the Ethan Allen, replacing a canvas top with a heavier fiberglass canopy. Scarano also installed plexiglass windows around the boat which may have added to the instability.
The NTSB is continuing its investigation into the cause of the accident and expects to release a preliminary report in the coming weeks.
Controversy is swirling like a tornado around the Warren County Sheriff Department's finding that that there was no "criminal recklessness" or even "criminal negligence" by Shoreline Cruises or the Ethan Allen's captain Richard Paris.
The New York North Country Gazette wrote an article about Mr.Zdrojewski's call for a boycott of "a nation-wide boycott of tourism in Warren County, especially, Lake George" [article can be found here], including a link to this web site. A history of controversy surrounding Sheriff Larry Cleveland as reported by the North Country Gazette can be found here.
Others commentators have weighed in on the boycott proposal on this blog, including:
Karl Ruane: " I am not surprised with the attempts to cover this matter up by Sheriff Larry Cleveland, as he has been involved in numerous schemes to conceal wrong-doing by various elected officials AND police departments. At one point, falsely arresting a local newspaper publisher for exposing wrong-doings by local elected officials, in the end completely driving the woman out of business."
M. Gilson: "The incident with the Ethan Allen was an accident and not negligence..."
Jamie Patterson: "Clearly this is what it was an Accident, pointing fingers, playing the blame game, boycotting a county. How will this bring what you've already lost back? How are you truly letting the dead rest in peace, with an ongoing war? I believe the company should face strict fines and that NY really should look at the requirements in place for sailing such vessels..."
Kimberly McCarthy: "I am extremely sympathetic to everyone that has been affected by the Ethan Allen tragedy. ... I feel if you would like to boycott the boating company, it is completely understandable. The boycott of an entire town would kill a community."
Kenny Wood: "The tragedy on Lake George has definitely opened the eyes to the unsafe conditions of the boats that shoreline cruises operates. I agree with you that justice should be served for those responsible. The idea of boycotting the Lake George are though is ridiculous! Why should everyone who lives in Lake George suffer more by losing their main means of making money?"
My own two cents worth. The Sheriff's department report is a farce. As an attorney, I see negligent homicide cases brought against the drivers of cars all the time when their negligence causes death (an there does not need to be drinking involved). What is interesting here is that the Sheriff's Department reached their conclusions before most of the facts which might impact the issue of recklessness/negligence have been revealed by the NTSB. What if it turns out that the NTSB report (due out this summer) finds that the bilge pump was neglected, that the owner/operator new that the vessel was unstable with 48 people on board etc etc?
Further, the suggestion of "no criminal charges" were first reported months ago, before much of the basic information was even available. It does appear that this report was outcome determinative.
Traverse Legal recently received the Warren County Sheriff's Investigation Report regarding the Ethan Allen boat tragedy, and we have made those available here. Below are the links to the different aspects of what we received; including the sheriff's report, the sheriff's scuba team photos, and the case photos.
The Post-Star on-line news has reported that the investigation of the cause of the Ethan Allen capsize has widened.
Federal investigators revealed Tuesday they have brought three contractors who did work on the Ethan Allen into the investigation of what caused the tour boat to sink, including one to look at whether the boat's engine coolant pump was working properly.
Had the coolant pump not been functioning correctly, it could have been bringing water onto the boat and adding weight, officials said. Some believed the pump did not appear in perfect order after the boat flipped over on Lake George, Warren County Sheriff Larry Cleveland said.
The National Transportation Safety Board announced Tuesday that three private companies that worked on the tour boat had become part of the investigation, including the English company that manufactured the coolant pump, Hypro Marine.
Also involved were Albany boatmaker Scarano Boats, which manufactured the Ethan Allen's canopy, and Cummins Inc., which built its engine.
The NTSB's timetable to complete the investigation is expected to be complete within the next nine months or so. Here is the NTSB announcement concerning the new investigation items http://www.ntsb.gov/Pressrel/2006/060103.htm.
Here are some further articles concerning the new investigation scope:
Albany Times (The owner and operator of the vessel, Shoreline Cruises of Lake George, has denied wrongdoing in the Ethan Allen's capsizing. It said the ship went over accidentally, possibly when it was hit by the wake of another vessel.).
There are a number of new comments that have been posted by Ronald Zdrojewski, the son-in-law of William Gilson who died on the Ethan Allen. Mr. Zdrojewski makes some very strong points about the lack of consequences for those who caused the death of the Ethan Allen passengers.
Mr. Zdrojewski is not interested in litigation. But he does want justice. He notes:
We have been contacted by a reporter of the New York Times, that the driver of the boat was a retired State Trooper. We were told that your department did not take an alcohol blood test until 46 hours after the incident. Is there some kind of protectionism going on? I must say, that Jan and I are not interested in pursuing a law-suit of ‘wrongful death’, since that won’t bring her parents back to life. What we would desire, is to have all of the individuals involved in these killings, to be arrested and go to jail and end a good portion of their lives. This includes the captain and the owners of the Company, who wanted to push as many people on the boat as possible, so they could make more money.
I am very sure, the captain knew he was taking on too many passengers and the boat would lean one way or the other according to an uneven amount of weight of the passengers. However, the more people, he could get on board, the more money he would “take in.” Was this a push from the owners of the company or was he trying to look “good” as to how much money he could bring in? In any event, it seems to me that there is some kind of wait for a law-suit to pursue, and “let’s get it over”, and everything will quiet down. Not so! If no one is arrested for “Negligent Homicide”, then there will be a law-suit.
This sentiment is the core of what drives civil tort lawsuits. Family members, contrary to popular belief, don't start out lawsuit pursing money damages as their primary goal. However, they do want and need to know that justice is done. When the criminal system protects its own, or there are not criminal ramifications for negligence, civil lawsuits become the best and often only way to hold people accountable.
Another issue to consider. An accident is considered to be a happening where no one is at fault. I would consider a piece of rock falling from space and hitting my home an accident. However, when people are involved in motion, there is no such thing as an accident. The human being has control, or lack of control as a result of poor attention to what he or she is doing.
Here is another comment by Joe Benedict which caught my attention. Joe makes a great point about the lack of significance that the weight average had not been changed by the Coast Guard regulations (even assuming they had applied) given the gross instability of this vessel:
With the shape of the hull, and no keel, center of gravity higher with added roof, any halfway smart person could figure that was like putting 5 people in a clawfoot bathtub and then trying to take a corner. It may have 'floated' with capacity stated by inspectors. But in a straight line. I never ever would have got on that boat.This was about revenue per seat. period . It should never have been cleared for that many people. 140lbs or 170lbs a person doesn't matter. (30lbs x40ish =1200lbs) not much. That is a ploy to throw off the scent. this was about money, not safety.
There is an interesting debate on the pros and cons of bringing litigation to compensate families of Ethan Allen victims found here. You are invited to participate.
It is essentially a debate about our court system and how we as a society assign responsibility for negligent (versus intentional) behavior by companies operating for profit. It is a debate which has been going on since the beginning of our country. In a world were tort reformers would like to lock people from the court system all together, the Ethan Allen tragedy provides an interesting backdrop.
Should family members simply walk away without any compensation, any vindication or without having their day in court?
Don't we all pay insurance premiums every month to make sure we can compensate people who are injured if we happen to make a mistake which takes lives?
What good can come from filing a lawsuit in a case like this?
Thank you Patti for starting the discussion. Although we disagree on some points, I appreciate your thoughts and your sympathy to your friends at Shoreline who, no doubt, will also carry this tragedy with them for the rest of their lives.
Scarano Boat Building, Inc., located on the Hudson River in Bethlehem just south of the Port of Albany, worked with Shoreline Cruises owner James Quirk beginning in the late 1980s and built Shoreline's two larger tour boats, the 115-foot Adirondac and the 85-foot Horicon. In addition, Quirk hired Scarano to do work on Shoreline's two 39-foot boats, the Ethan Allen and de Champlain. In 1989, Scarano workers replaced the two boats' metal-pole-and-canvas tops with wooden tops.
There is an open question about whether the modifications impacted the stability of the Ethan Allen. The Scarano web site is listed here.
The New Yok Post-Star has reported some new information about the construction and modification history of the Ethan Allen cruise ship.
The Ethan Allen and its sister ship, the de Champlain, were built by The Anchorage Inc., a Rhode Island boatbuilder. Shoreline had significant modifications made to both boats in the years after they were brought to Lake George, officials said.
Basic information about the company is listed on the internet as follows.
Private Company, Headquarters Location 57 Miller St., Warren RI 02885, United States (401)245-3300, (401)245-3302 fax, Primary SIC: Boat Building And Repairing, Primary NAICS: Boat Building
The Anchorage, Inc. has been building fine boats since 1930, when Bill Dyer founded the company. One of the first boats to be built as the 10' Dyer Dink, a wooden lapstrake dinghy. It was followed, in the early 1940's, by a plywood version of the 9' Dyer Dhow.
Already besieged by Freedom of Information Law requests, Warren County Sheriff Larry Cleveland said his agency has decided to publicly release copies of its final report on the Ethan Allen tragedy, possibly by the end of the month.
Cleveland said he has concluded that the report is public information, since the Sheriff's Department has decided not to file any criminal charges in the case.
The report would include whatever conclusions the department will be able to draw about what caused the tour boat to sink on Lake George on Oct. 2, killing 20 passengers. More here ...
Traverse Legal will post the report (expected to be approximately 100 pages) as soon as it is released.
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