Coast Guard Suspends Vineyard SSA Captain

The United States Coast Guard confirmed yesterday that it has suspended the license of an experienced Steamship Authority captain for negligence in an alarming accident during a man overboard drill on the ferry Islander last year.

Lieut. John Winter, a senior marine investigator and marine safety officer based in Providence, R.I., said Capt. David Dandridge turned in his license last Wednesday for a 30-day suspension.

The actual suspension will run for 21 days because Mr. Dandridge was suspended for nine days by the Steamship Authority earlier in connection with the accident.

Lieutenant Winter said the license suspension is a settlement between Mr. Dandridge and the Coast Guard in a case that was due to go to a hearing before an administrative law judge. The Coast Guard was initially seeking a 60-day suspension, he said.

A boat line crew member nearly drowned in the incident, which took place on August 4 of last year.

"The root cause of the casualty was lack of communication between crew and captain on a series of levels," Lieutenant Winter said.

The man overboard drill had been previously planned and a chief warrant officer for the Coast Guard was on board the Islander when she began her return trip from the Vineyard to Woods Hole that day.

The drill involves the use of a rescue boat and a mannequin that is thrown over the side of the ferry to simulate a person falling into the water.

The drill began smoothly enough - the mannequin was thrown into the water by the Coast Guard officer and a 13-foot rescue boat with an outboard motor was lowered alongside the Islander. Two able-bodied seamen - Barry Brooks and Mark Laliberte - climbed into the rescue boat, which was connected to the large ferry by sea painters, ropes usually used at the bow of a boat.

There were 232 passengers on board the ferry at the time.

According to a later Coast Guard report, Captain Dandridge left the forward wheelhouse of the Islander, moved to the aft wheelhouse and began to steam the ferry back toward the mannequin. The rescue boat was still connected to the ferry, and it began to drag and take on water.

The rescue boat filled with water and flipped over. Mr. Brooks went under with the boat, his leg entangled in a line. A passenger on board the ferry jumped overboard and swam underneath the rescue boat, freeing Mr. Brooks from the tangled line. Mr. Brooks was unconscious and was transported to shore by a Vineyard Haven Yacht Club committee boat which was nearby at the time of the mishap.

Mr. Brooks was hospitalized and later recovered.

"Captain Dandridge was charged with negligence to the safety of his crew. There were things he could have and should have done to protect his crew and he didn't take those actions," Lieutenant Winter said.

He said letters of warning were also issued to two crewmen, the mate and the bosun for misconduct during the incident.

The Coast Guard investigation into the incident is now closed.