Transportation Secretary Brock Adams yesterday defended the Coast Guard as "fundamentally . . . not at fault" in the Oct. 20 sinking of the cutter Cuyahoga and rebuked two members of Congress who have called for a probe into the service.
"What I am unhappy about is that a judgment is being passed that the Coast Guard is at fault before we have had all the parties testify. They are passing a judgment before a judgment is warranted," said Adams whose department oversees the Coast Guard in peacetime.
Reps. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Robert Bauman (R-Md.) both requested a congressional inquiry into Coast Guard training procedures following what they called "chilling" testimony by survivors of the Cuyahoga, which sank with a loss of 11 lives after it collided at night with a freighter on Chesapeake Bay.
"The unusual thing is not for us to call for a hearing," said Bauman yesterday. "The unusual thing is that the secretary would criticize us for calling for a hearing."
"We're saying if there are deficiencies in the training of the Coast Guard, we ought to address those questions quickly."
The sinking of the Cuyahoga, a training ship based at Yorktown, Va., was one of the worst Coast Guard disasters in recent years.
Yesterday, Coast Guard officials announced a further delay in efforts to raise the Cuyahoga, and set sometime this morning as the earliest the cutter might be brought to the surface.
Officials also announced that the body of the 11th victim, Senior Chief Machinery Technican David B. Makin, 34, of Newport News, Va., was discovered yesterday by crew members of a private yacht about two miles west of the site where the Cuyahoga went down.
The other 10 crewmen's bodies were discovered last week. Search efforts were ended yesterday.
A spokesman said yesterday's delay in raising the vessel came after salvage experts on the scene realized that "the best possible location" for attaching wires to lift the ship's stern was in a damaged area of the hull. A "less than ideal location" is being sought, he said.
The call for a congressional investigation followed five days of public testimony last week in Baltimore before a Coast Guard board of inquiry. Survivors from the Cuyahoga's crew described the series of actions taken by the cutter's inexperienced bridge watch team that left it in the path of the oncoming freigther, the Santa Cruzz II.
The cutter's commanding officer, Chief Warrant Officer Donald K. Robinson, 46, was informed last week by the board that he was a "suspect" in its probe and declined to testify about his role in the collision.
"If [Coast Guard] procedures were at fault they would be corrected," Adams said yesterday. "If individuals were at fault they would have to suffer the blame."
Adams' criticisms of Bauman and Mikulski came in a telephone interview as he prepared to deliver an address last night at the Coast Guard's Atlantic headquarters on Governor's Island in New York.
In his prepared remarks Adams said: "Lets not tear down the good name of the Coast Guard until we have all the facts."
Earlier he told a reporter that the Coast Guard had "always had a difficult time obtaining the necessary appropriations and support available to the other services.
"You don't have glamorous things like missiles and carriers. That has been one of the problems," Adams said.