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Coast Guard ramps up inspections after deaths


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POSTED: Friday, May 01, 2009

The Coast Guard has tightened its inspection programs after two catamaran accidents that each took the life of a passenger.

The Coast Guard said it will pay special attention to sail rigging, masts and related components on these small passenger vessels.

Thirteen-year-old Jordan Loser of Riverside, Calif., was pinned under the mast of the 45-foot Na Hoku II catamaran, which was owned and skippered by John Savio on Dec. 1, 2006. The boat was returning at 4 p.m. from its third sightseeing tour from Waikiki Beach to Diamond Head when the mast buckled and collapsed on the cabin, killing Loser and injuring three others.

On March 25, 2007, Hal Pulfer of Highland Park, Ill., died of blunt trauma to his head aboard the 50-foot Kiele V off Maui after its 57-foot mast snapped. The catamaran sank about three miles off Maui's Kahana Beach, and pieces of the wreckage stretched over three miles near the southeastern end of Molokai. Two of the other 44 passengers were injured.

The Coast Guard gave a briefing yesterday on its inspections of all 59 state commercial sailing vessels.

Of the vessels inspected during that "surge operation," 41 passed without discrepancies, said Coast Guard Capt. Barry Compagnoni, the officer in charge of marine inspections. Of the remaining 18, 11 had discrepancies that had to be corrected before they were allowed to sail, he said.

Compagnoni said there were four unauthorized modifications to the sail and the rigging systems of Na Hoku. Savio and a crew member also tested positive for marijuana after the accident.

"Those unauthorized modifications and the conditions of the wind caused the mast to collapse," he added.

Shortly after the accident, Savio voluntarily surrendered his master's license, the Coast Guard said.

Savio, who was unavailable for comment last night, still owns Anele Kai Catamarans — which operates Na Hoku — but has hired a captain. The Coast Guard never pressed charges against the crewman, who could have been fined up to $10,000 for failing the drug test.

Cathy Loser, Jordan's mother, told the Star-Bulletin yesterday that her son's death was a result of "gross negligence by the Coast Guard and the owner."

She and her husband, David, said their own investigation has uncovered many other problems with Na Hoku II that were not mentioned in the Coast Guard report.

"There are two inch cracks in the boat that were painted over," David Loser added. "The Coast Guard never did a good job of inspecting the boat. That boat should have never been in the water."

Compagnoni said the Coast Guard is still exploring the possibility of fining Savio for the unauthorized modifications. The penalty could be as high as $6,500.

In the case of the Kiele V, a microscopic crack at the base of the mast caused it to collapse.