Citing delays in identifying a scallop boat as it sank in the Atlantic Ocean in March, the federal government is contacting nearly a quarter of a million boaters, urging them to make sure their emergency position locators are correctly registered in a rescue database.
The Coast Guard says an incorrectly recorded beacon number from the Lady Mary delayed notification of rescue personnel as the boat foundered off Cape May. Six of the seven crew members died.
As a result, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is mailing and e-mailing all registered owners of the emergency beacons across the country.
"I'm glad to see they are doing this; hopefully it will prevent a similar delay in search and rescue operations in the future," said Stevenson Weeks, the lawyer for the Lady Mary's owner.
The cause of the sinking is still being investigated. The lawyer for the boat owner says a collision with another vessel in the early morning darkness is the leading theory.
Only one of the seven fisherman on board survived by jumping overboard and clinging to a piece of wood in the ocean for hours, until being rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter.
The Coast Guard this week issued a marine safety alert urging boat owners to make sure their ship-mounted Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons, commonly known as EPIRBs, and portable Personal Locator Beacons, are correctly registered with NOAA.
The EPIRB from the Lady Mary was wrongly recorded with the agency, off by one digit.
Thus, when the scallop boat ran into trouble March 24, there was a delay of nearly an hour and a half in locating it.
According to testimony in the ongoing Coast Guard inquiry into the sinking, when the first satellite signal was detected, there was no positional information to pass along to search and rescue teams. And because the radio beacon's registration had been wrongly entered into the database, there was no emergency contact information, either.
That information — the ship's name and a phone number for its owner or other crew members onshore who might have known where the boat had been fishing, could have aided rescuers who would have known where to start looking.
The emergency signal was received at 5:40 a.m., but it wasn't until a lower-orbiting satellite picked up a signal at 7:07 a.m. that rescuers could zero in on its position.
Because of the Lady Mary sinking and its wrongly recorded beacon number, NOAA is mailing and e-mailing the more than 240,000 registered owners of emergency beacons, urging them make sure their units are correctly recorded in a national database.
The database can be accessed at http://www.beaconregistration.noaa.gov.
The hearing into the Lady Mary sinking, which was adjourned in May after several days, will resume in September or October, Weeks said.
The delay is designed to give Navy divers time to retrieve damaged items from the sunken boat including its propeller, which will then be examined by metallurgists to determine if the damage came from a collision with another ship.
"There's a lot of evidence pointing in that direction," Weeks said.