Coast Guard Commandant John B. Hayes said yesterday that the skipper of the cutter Cuyhoga, "Lulled by good weather and good visibility," was chiefly to blame for the collision with a freighter last fall in which 11 of the Cuyahoga's crewmen died.
Adm. Hayes told a House investigating subcommittee that "it is quite clear where the responsibility for this casualty lies... command was the crucial element."
Hayes' account, the first public assessment by the Coast Guard of fault in the accident Oct. 20 in the Chesapeake Bay, was consistent with findings of the National Transportation Safety Board. That agency reported last week that Warrant Officer Donald K. Robinson, commander of the Cuyahoga, "failed to determine the relative motion, course, speed or closest point of approach" of the Argentine freighter Santa Cruz II before the collision.
Another witness told the House Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Navigation that the collision could have been avoided if the pilot of the Santa Cruz has reacted quicker in sounding a warning when the Cuyahoga changed course in front of the bigger ship.
Rear Adm. Raymond Wood, head of the Coast Guard inquiry, said the indecision of the Santa Cruz pilot was partially to blame for the collision.