Coast Guard commandant John B. Hayes recommended yesterday that civil action be taken against the pilot of the Argentinian freighter that collided with the cutter Cuyahoga last fall, killing 11 of the cutter's crewmen.
Pilott John P. Hamill of Baltimore, Hayes said, failed to sound a danger signal as required by maritime law until the two ships were in "the jaws of collision."
It is possible that the collision could have been avoided" had Hamill sounded the signal in time, according to the final Coast Guard report on the Oct. 20 collision in the Chesapeake Bay.
Hamill declined to comment on the report yesterday, but his attorney said the Coast Guard's evaluation was "totally wrong."
While the report placed most of the blame for the collision on the Cuyahoga's skipper, Chief Warrant Officer Donald K. Robinson, Hayes said the 29-year-old Hamill should be cited for "his part in the casualty."
The fatal collision occurred about 9 o'clock on a clear night when Robinson -- mistaking the freighter's lights for those of small fishing vessel - turned left into the path of the oncoming freighter.
During Marine Board of Inquiry hearings into the collision, Hamill maintained that his ship was the "privileged vessel" according to nautical "rules of the road" and that his duty, under law, was to maintain course and speed.
But yesterday's report said neither vessel was privileged in the situation.
Hayes said he has directed the commander of the Coast Guard's 5th District in Portsmouth, Rear Adm. Thomas T. Wetmore, to initiate civil action against Hamill. A 5th District spokesman said yesterday the order had not yet been received.
If found guilty of negligence in the collision, Hamill would be subject to a maximum fine of $500 under the civil penalty provision of the Coast Guard Boat Safety Act.
"My position," said Hamill's Baltimore attorney, David Owen, "is that Hamill sounded the proper signals under the circumstances."
It was clear how the proposed action might effect Hamill's pilot's license, Owen said, adding, "No pilot wants any black mark on any of his records."
Robinsion, 47, was originally charged with involuntary manslaughter, destruction of government property and negligently hazarding a vessel, but Hayes recently agreed to drop the first two charges.
Court-martial proceedings on the third charge against Robinson will resume in several weeks, the Coast Guard said yesterday.
If convicted, Robinson could face two years of hard labor and a dishonorable discharge.
"The reason why Robinson failed to properly identify the navigation lights" of the freighter Santa Cruz II, or "comprehend that both vessels were in a meeting situation cannot be positively determined," Hayes said in yesterday's report. While medical reports indicate that Robinson may have been suffering from a respiratory ailment at the time of collision, "the effect of his medical condition upon his performance cannot be established," the report said.
So far, Robinson has refused to testify about his part in the casualty.
In a statement given to investigations shortly after the collision and entered as evidence before the board, Robinson said he mistook the freighter for a small fishing vessel traveling in the same direction as the Cuyahoga.
Hayes agreed with that assessment yesterday in blaming Robinson.
"While the board was able to determine how this casualty occurred," the report stated," many questions as to why it occurred can only be answered by Robinson."