A Transportation Department study prompted by the sinking last October of the Coast Guard cutter Cuyahoga has found serious and widespread deficiences in the service's training procedures and aboard its training ships.
The report, ordered by Transportation Secretary Brock Adams and released yesterday, detailed inadequate safety procedures at four training bases and warned of the likelihood of "serious accidents" aboard the service's three-masted, 295-foot ship Eagle.
Adams said yesterday that in recent years the Coast Guard's "margin of training safety has been decreasing, although we still have an adequate level of safety. We are now moving to increase it."
The Eagle, a 42-year-old German-built sailing ship used by the Coast Guard Academy, "presents the greatest potential for serious accidents in afloat training, not just because of the numbers on board but because of her condition, her method of manning and operation, and the absence of a damage control manual," the report stated.
Other sections of the two-inch-thick report noted that Coast Guard recruits sometimes are sent to sea without any training in ship escape or rescue procedures and in some ships whose radar does not function properly.
"There is a definite lack of emphasis on professional seagoing preparation, particularly at the Coast Guard Academy," the report said. "The perception engendered in trainees is that maritime professionalism is not of paramount importance."
The 51-year-old training ship Cuyahoga sank in calm seas under clear skies Oct. 20 in the Chesapeake Bay after being rammed by the Argentine cargo ship Santa Cruz II. Eleven members of her 29-member Coast Guard crew died in the collision, one of the worst in the services. A special Coast Guard committee currently is investigating the incident behind closed doors, with its conclusions due to be released in March, according to a spokesman for the DOT chief.
"As a professional seaman most of us could look at it (the Cuyahoga collision) and say, 'there but for the grace of God go I,'" Adm. John B. Hayes, Coast Guard commandant, said at a press conference called yesterday by Adams.
However, Adams said that "We do not have that kind of exposure (now). If I knew of another situation out there (like the Cuyahoga) I'd pull it (out of service) like that," Adams said, snapping his fingers.
Hayes yesterday said he was accepting Adams' recommendations that the physical conditions of the ships and training procedures be upgraded.Both men said no additional money or manpower would be needed for those actions.
The Cuyahoga was based at Yorktown, where Coast Guard and DOT investigators found officer candidates who were sharply critical of two aspects of their training, the report said. "The instructional plan did not schedule water survival training until after the (fatal Cuyahoga) weekend cruise,... and (there was a) lack of... experience and rules-of-the-road training before their first cruise," the report said.
Adams said yesterday that the Coast Guard's increasing responsibilities for drug enforcement and pollution control had contributed to the service resources being "stretched pretty thin."