Charleston Fire Chief Karen Brack offered little new information Monday about an April 13th incident, when her department’s $850,000 “Marine 101” fire boat (also known as the Louis Behrens) crashed into a buoy while responding to a distress call from a small Navy vessel.
Brack said an investigation by the Coast Guard is still ongoing. “We’ve been relatively quiet about it because what we wanted was to have a very fair and impartial process,” she told reporters Monday in a briefing at the boat’s dry dock. “Once they were done with their investigation, they would be able to give us an honest assessment of what happened. An honest assessment of where we’re headed.”
But the Charleston Post & Courier reported Tuesday that a preliminary Coast Guard investigation had blamed human error for the crash. The paper released the investigation’s findings after filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the city.
According to the paper, the Coast Guard report said the Louis Behrens skipper had decided to cut between a buoy and Fort Sumter in an effort to reach the stranded vessel more quickly. However, he did not see the buoy itself until the fire boat struck it. It’s still not clear whether or not the buoy’s light was flashing. It was the skipper’s first time through the channel in a night trip, the paper reported, and he had trouble seeing through the glare of electronic instruments reflected on the windshield.
No one was hurt in the collision, although the Louis Behrens was critically damaged when the buoy punched a hole in its hull. A North Charleston fire boat had to tow its Charleston counterpart back to dry dock, where it has since remained.
Brack did not talk about the specific preliminary findings Monday, but said that its results will be a good learning experience that will result in better training. “It gives us an opportunity to correct. It gives us an opportunity to get with our partners like the Coast Guard and other responders and to develop programs.”
Brack did say some of the boat’s “safeguards” were not in place, as the vessel had only been operating since January. She said, for example, that Marine 101 did not have dewatering equipment. Brack said the city had been hoping to buy the extra equipment under the same grant used to purchase the boat.
Chief Brack gave no indication when the investigation will be finished.
Sheree Bernardi contributed to this report