By John M. Guilfoil, Globe Correspondent
A US Coast Guard commander conceded today that his agency was slow in responding to a fishing boat sinking off the coast of Gloucester in January, but said that the vessel went down quickly and the two men who died probably could not have been saved.
The Patriot sank very quickly and with little warning around 1:30 a.m. on Jan 3, according to a statement from Vice Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr., commander of the Coast Guard's Atlantic Area. The official Coast Guard report says fishermen Matteo Russo and John Orlando drowned immediately, and there was likely nothing that could have been done to save them.
Coast Guard officials said, however, that response efforts should have been quicker, and the agency will take steps to improve its actions. The Coast Guard was notified about a possible problem aboard the 54-foot Patriot at 1:35 a.m, but failed to launch search vessels until nearly 4 a.m., Papp said. A rescue helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod did not arrive until after 5 a.m., he also said.
“Our review of this case showed that we were slow to launch search and rescue assets because of poor collection and analysis of information, and decision making regarding the Patriot's status," Papp said in a statement. “The remedial actions I’m requiring are designed to ensure that our people have the right tools, experience and training to be able to act quickly and decisively when emergent and unpredictable cases happen.”
In his finding of facts in the case, Papp said that Coast Guard District command, which covers the area around New York to the Canadian border, should have been more directly involved in the response, instead of leaving the situation in the hands of local Guardsmen in Boston and Gloucester.
Papp ordered a review of local search and rescue policies and ordered all personnel involved in the Patriot case to review his findings.
“We are committed to providing the best service possible to the maritime community, and reviewing unusual cases like the Patriot helps us to improve our search and rescue operations,” said Papp.
Papp said he had spoken with Josie Russo, Matteo Russo's wife, and passed on his condolences for her family's loss. He also said he had sent a team today to share the final report with them and answer any additional questions.
"The Russo and Orlando families have my commitment that this review of our response will help us perform more effectively and decisively, even during uncertainty, and may one day help to save someone's life," Papp said.
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