The Coast Guard said today that "structural failure" caused the cruise ship Veracruz I to slip from its braces two months ago while in dry dock for repairs, fatally injuring one crewman.
The Coast Guard report found no evidence of "actionable misconduct, inattention to duty, negligence, or willful violation of law or regulation" on the part of the crew of the Panamanian-registered cruise ship or Norfolk Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Corp., the company that owned and operated the dry dock equipment.
The 475-foot ship slipped from its blocks at about 3 a.m. on Oct. 1 and lurched on its side. Avery Darly, 49, of Jamaica, was the only one of 31 injured crewmen to die in the accident. Authorities said Darling died after inhaling poison gas produced when 10 tons of sewage flooded his deck.
Neither OSHA nor the Coast Guard currently inspects dry docks, and Coast Guard spokesman Fred Brox said the Coast Guard was not recommending that OSHA adopt safety standards covering dry docks.
"We don't view this as something screaming for regulatory attention," Brox said.
Brox said that because dry docks are outside the Coast Guard's jurisdiction, no attempt was made to determine why the World War II-era wooden structure failed. "We don't have jurisdiction over dry docks and we don't have expertise to evaluate the equipment," he said."
A spokesman in the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office in Norfolk said a copy of the report was forwarded to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as a courtesy.
A preliminary OSHA investigation also found no wrongdoing by Norfolk Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Corp. or the Veracruz crew, and recommended that no action be taken.
Larry Liberatore, director of OSHA's regional office in Baltimore, said he plans to recommend that the federal agency adopt specific standards to cover dry docks. The dry dock had been inspected for insurance purposes and by the Navy during the past three years.
Attorneys for both the cruise ship line and the dry dock company said that they do not expect to learn the cause of the accident unless both sides file lawsuits. "We'll try to lay all our damage to them and they'll try to lay it to us," said John Crumpler, attorney for Bahama Cruise Lines.
"It's probably going to be difficult to find cause. Absent a lawsuit that allows each side to dig into the other side's files, I don't really see how you'll figure out what happened," Crumpler said.