The captain of the Coast Guard cutter Cuyahoga - named as a "suspect" in the official inquiry into the ship's collision with an Argentine freighter in which 11 crewman died - was also the subject of two separate Coast Guard investigations earlier this year.
Chief Warrant Officer Donald K. Robinson, 46, was reprimanded for "poor judgment" and "poor seamanship" after the Cuyahoga ran into a drawbridge near Baltimore Harbor on May 31, according to Coast Guard documents. The impact knocked the ship's radar antenna off the mast, causing more than $5,000 in damages.
A month earlier, the Cuyahoga struck a sea wall while mooring near the same harbor, dislodging a large piece of granite, according to the accident report.
Robinson was held accountable for the bridge incident and received a letter of reprimand that his immediate superior yesterday called "a chewing out."
A 27-year veteran of the Coast Guard, Robinson was promoted between the first and second incidents to chief warrant officer 4th class.
Documents also revealed that as a result of the bridge incident, a Coast Guard investigative board reommended that the 51-year-old Cuyahoga's pilot house controls be updated. The modern equipment was not installed, a senior Coast Guard officer said yesterday.
On May 31, the accident report states, the Cuyahoga left the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis bay near Baltimore enroute to Yorktown, Va., where the training vessel-described as a "floating classroom" - was stationed. While attempting to pass under the Pennington Avenue drawbridge - which Robinson had been told four hours earlier would have only half of its span open - the Cuyahoga swung to the left and struck the bridger's closed west span, the report said.
Immediately before the collision, Robinson ordered the engines reversed. He heard no response from the engine room, the report states, and signaled ful astern again to ensure the crewmen "understood the urgency of the order."
According to testimony last week in Baltimore, the Cuyahoga was shunk on the night of Oct. 20 after it turned left across the path of the oncoming freighter Santa Cruz II, then reversed its engines at the last moment when collision was imminent.
Capt. Charles Blaba, commanding officer of the Yorktown training center, declined to comment on the two earlier investigations yesterday, saying he would "probably" be called as a witness before the official board of inquiry looking into the sinking of the Cuyahoga. That board is expected to move from Baltimore to the Norfolk, Va., area later this week.
However, Blaha is quoted in the earlier accident reports as saying. "While the incidents are separate, their close proximity in time raises questions of potential serious impact on . . . Robinson."
The May 31 incident occurred as the Cuyahoga was savigating two bridges, the I-635 bridge and the Pennington Avenue bridge. The Cuyahoga with its mast height of 52 feet, passed under the first bridge at the center span. Then, according to the report, Robinson tried a "zig-zag" maneuver, turning right, then left.
"The intricacy, if not impossibility, of this maneuver, as planned, constitutes poor judgment on the part of CWO Robinson," said Blaha in the report. "A prudent seaman would savigate his vessel so as to pass through both spans on a constant course . . . several altrenative means of doing this were available to CWO Robinson, citing excessive speed and too sharp a course change.
The Cuyahoga's captain testified last week that he had received no formal nagivational instruction. "All my experience has been practical," he told the board of inquiry.
Robinson, the father of six from Yorktown, Va., has been described as a deeply religious man who is a deacon in his Baptist church.
"I've been praying daily . . . continuously," Robinson was quoted as saying in an interview yesterday. "God is my strength in this time to face each day."