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Press release -

Ship master disobeyed rules day of grounding

The captain of the 550-foot bulk cargo vessel Cape Flattery that ran aground Feb. 2, 2005, violated maritime law and his own company's policies when he tried to enter the Kalaeloa Barbers Point channel without a harbor pilot, according to the ship's owners.

The big ship severely damaged several acres of coral reef at the eastern side of the channel entrance, and efforts to remove the vessel caused further damage as cables and chains ripped up a field of coral heads. State and federal agencies have been working for the past year and a half to repair damage and prevent further injury to the marine life in the area.

The Cape Flattery, which was hauling 27,100 metric tons of dry cement, was on the reef for eight days before being towed free. Recovery work and assessment of the condition of the reef is continuing.

"We regret the accident caused by an error on the part of the master and can confirm that the master is no longer employed by the company," wrote Jim Lawrence, a spokesman for the Hong Kong-based Pacific Basin Shipping, Ltd., which operates the Cape Flattery.

The report from the Coast Guard investigation into the incident found that the ship's captain attempted to enter the channel without waiting for a pilot to come aboard and guide it in.

The Coast Guard has not provided that report to the state Division of Aquatic Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or local offices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agencies responding to the ship grounding.

"Pilots are mandated by law," Lawrence said. "I believe the only exceptions are for U.S. military vessels and sometimes U.S. flag vessels, but only if the master has the proper credentials and certification. This is the general rule worldwide."

One of the first questions raised in the Coast Guard investigation into the grounding was whether a harbor pilot was aboard, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Steve Carleton said last year.

Large vessels customarily bring a pilot aboard when arriving at Hawai'i harbors to ensure safe entry. Harbor pilots are highly skilled skippers with knowledge of local conditions.

Lawrence said the Cape Flattery grounding is being used in training throughout Pacific Basin's more than 50-ship fleet to ensure ships' officers understand the proper procedures for entering port.

"The end result of any unfortunate incident must be safer practices and safer seas. Pacific Basin is committed to best practices and learning from the report on this unfortunate incident," he said.

The Cape Flattery, which is just two years old, was repaired and returned to service, he said.

But the Barbers Point reef remains in bad shape.

"There's all degrees of damage out there," said Gerry Davis, the assistant regional administrator for habitat conservation in NOAA's Pacific Islands office.

Divers reported that the reef that was directly under the ship's hull was crushed to white powder.

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