One confirmed dead in open ocean crash; could something like this happen again?
SAN DIEGO — The weekend leading up to Halloween was met with a freaky collision off the San Diego coast, as a sportfisher and superyacht reportedly became entangled on Oct. 26. Several passengers had to be rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard and at least one person died, according to news reports and unnamed sources.
Several publications and online message boards have revealed the basic facts: Prowler, a 65-foot sportfisher, and Attessa IV, a 332-foot superyacht, were involved in an open ocean collision on the American side of the U.S.-Mexico maritime border, about 9 miles west of Imperial Beach. The area where both boats collided is relatively busy with boats, as many vessels navigate through this stretch of the Pacific Ocean en route to Mexico, several sources confirmed with The Log.
Attessa IV is a 332-foot yacht owned by businessman Dennis Washington. The superyacht has a swimming pool, helipad, Jacuzzi, cinema, beauty salon and 10 guest cabins.
Prowler’s starboard quarter was heavily damaged, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Collision Chatter: The Conditions
Bloody Decks, the popular fishing website, featured an extended conversation about the two-vessel collision on its online discussion forum. Some questioned whether radar or Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) could have prevented the collision.
“The whole right side of the Prowler got wiped out,” one person who was aboard Prowler wrote on the Bloody Decks forum thread. “I’m amazed that it is still floating. We are on board the Attessa IV now as guest. They are giving us a ride back to land.”
The Coast Guard confirmed it was at the scene on the evening of Oct. 26 and rescued 17 people. A Coast Guard press release stated the agency’s San Diego sector received word of the collision at 7:50 p.m., meaning the collision likely happened after sunset. Coast Guard officials stated the cause of the collision is still under investigation.
Many have been asking how such a collision could happen, in the first place, even factoring time of day (dusk to evening). “It’s been very, very foggy the past few days here,” one person on the Bloody Decks discussion board stated.
The combination of nighttime navigation, fog and boats regularly using the route to navigate from San Diego to Mexico means everyone should be on alert, no matter how close or far you are offshore.
Technology … and Being at the Helm
A post on the Bloody Decks discussion board about the Prowler vs. Attessa IV collision by Michael E. Bingham pondered whether the person at the helm of one of the boats wasn’t paying attention to what was in front (or around) them.
“It goes to show you no matter how good your radar and electronics are shit happens,” Bingham wrote. “It’s very easy to track a boats path with the cursor on the radars, I’ve done it on mine many times. Hate to say it but it takes two, boats do not appear at the last second, as any skipper knows track what’s around you to prevent this.
“It’ll be interesting to see who was on the helm of both boats,” Bingham continued.
Another discussion board poster tried to visually explain what happened, without pointing fingers at who would be at fault.
“Prowler was ‘struck’ on the Starboard side. No thrusters on the Prowler, it can only go forward or backwards, not sideways. Obviously returning to Seaforth to turnaround for the day and a half, their bow was pointed north, Steve K. wrote. “The yacht, headed out to sea, no doubt headed west or southwest. Just diagram that on paper or just in your head. Who ‘ran into’ who remains to be seen. We’ll see how the investigation turns out.”
Someone named Rick speculated both boats would likely be at fault; he added many lessons could be learned from the collision.
“Both boats are almost certainly at fault. But regardless of legal fault, everyone should be concerned about how to prevent collisions at sea, especially when the other boat isn’t following the rules. And an accident like this could be avoided through routine use of AIS and ARPA collision avoidance alarms,” Rick, who posted as MYNomad, stated. “No good reason not to have them set when offshore, but in congested areas, the alarm is constantly going off. That’s when good watches are especially important. The fact that Prowler got hit on its starboard side means it may well have been the give-way vessel.”
A few people questioned whether Prowler had its AIS on, but one poster urged everyone to be patient until the Coast Guard report was released.
“Lost of suppositions going on here. Let’s wait for the full report. Lots of possible causes,” Steve Francis said on the Bloody Decks discussion board. “And you can’t rule out a possible mechanical/electronic system failure on either vessel.”
Yet another discussion board poster said many sportfishing vessels have AIS installed but turn them off in order to keep their locations secret.
“Most, if not all sportys turn their units off, gotta keep their locations secret. That shit needs to change,” Charlie Gordon wrote on Bloody Decks.
What role human error played in this incident probably won’t be known until investigation of this collision is completed.
An AIS Class A device is required for any self-propelled vessel, measuring 65 feet or longer, engaged in a commercial service. Prowler measured 65 feet in length and, with more than one dozen passengers aboard for sportfishing, was engaged in commercial activity.
Someone launched a GoFundMe page for Capt. Andrew Viola, in response to the collision; Prowler was helmed by Viola.
“Due to a recent accident at sea a dear friend lost his boat. Let’s show our love for a great man and family in these tough times,” the fundraiser’s creator said on the GoFundMe page.
The campaign, which had a goal of $50,000, raised $43,601 as of Nov. 8.
The Log will continue to report on the Prowler vs. Attessa IV collision as pertinent information becomes available – including the Coast Guard’s reported findings.