The owner-operator of the tour boats Adventure Bound and Captain Cook was given four notices of deficiencies by the U.S. Coast Guard last year, but continued to operate anyway, prompting numerous interventions by the Coast Guard, including one in which passengers were made to disembark.
Since the Oct. 22, 2022, incident involving the Adventure Bound in Canadian waters “it has not been permitted to carry paying passengers,” according to Alexandria O’Brien, a spokesperson for the Juneau office of the U.S. Coast Guard.
“No one, regardless of licensing status, may operate these vessels with paying passengers on board while the vessels remain uncertificated,” she said.
She declined to comment on specifics detailed in the report, or the status of the license of the owner-operater, citing the Coast Guard’s policy of not discussing ongoing marine safety investigations.
The report, most recently updated July 24, sheds some light on recent complaints about Tracy Arm cruises by Adventure Bound Alaska, the company operating the two vessels, which were filed with local agencies as well as online on places like TripAdvisor and Yelp. The gist of those complaints — including some as recent as late June — is that trips were canceled last minute and that refunds have not been forthcoming.
Travel Juneau has received more than two-dozen complaints, said Liz Perry, president and CEO of the nonprofit tourism organization. Refunds have been “slow in coming,” but they are being made.
“I do not know if everyone has been refunded at this point,” she said.
While the name of the owner-operator isn’t included in the report, Steve Weber is listed elsewhere as the longtime owner-operator of the 56-foot Adventure Bound and the 65-foot Captain Cook. Numerous attempts to reach Weber via phone and email have been unsuccessful. Both Adventure Bound and Captain Cook were docked in Aurora Harbor this week.
The Investigation Activity Report labeled “Adventure Bound/Grounding,” centers on the mid-October rescue of the Adventure Bound near Ketchikan by the Coast Guard and subsequent events through late January. Initially the Prince Rupert Coast Guard alerted the Coast Guard in Juneau that a boat appeared to be lost and its operator potentially in need of medical assistance. Station Ketchikan responded with a vessel with two EMTs from the local fire department on board, according to the report.
“Once on scene, the master of Adventure Bound was against leaving his vessel behind, and so a compromise was reached where the Coast Guard would escort him,” the report states. “Shortly after the escort began the Adventure Bound simultaneously lost its starboard engine and steering. At that point its captain was taken on board the Coast Guard ship, and ultimately transferred to shore.”
During the medical evaluation the captain said “he was not sure if had dreamed of running aground or if he had actually ran the vessel aground,” according to the report.
Paramedics evaluated whether he was suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning and determined he was “suffering from dementia,” according to the report, which doesn’t state the basis for that conclusion. A later summary states the causes of the incident “were determined to be a combination of prescription drug use, excessive operating hours without a break, and the medical condition of the master who had direction and control of the vessel at the time of the grounding.”
The Adventure Bound was towed by Bailey Barco, a Coast Guard cutter, which dropped it off with Coast Guard Station Ketchikan, which in turn moored the vessel in Ketchikan Harbor. From there, a marine safety detachment in Ketchikan conducted a damage assessment, issuing the four deficiencies, formally known as CG-835s.
Several things happened in January in terms of Coast Guard actions, according to the report. First, an inspection visit to the vessel was conducted on Jan. 3, and the captain was told to submit and return a report of the grounding, a form CG-2682, within five days. On Jan. 10 the Coast Guard sent an email requesting pre-employment and random drug testing record for the owner-operator and his deckhands. On Jan. 13 another email was sent requesting the CG-2692 and the drug testing records earlier. The Coast Guard received the CG-2692 via certified mail by Jan. 23. “The CG-2692 was not filled out fully and was missing details of the grounding,” but it was enough to complete the casualty investigation.
“Sector Juneau inspectors attended the vessels multiple times after witnessing the vessel in operation with passengers for hire,” according to the report.
The “master was told (again) that he could not operate either vessel until the outstanding CG-835s were cleared,” the reports states, adding the owner-operator nontheless continued to take the vessel out with passengers.
A separate issue is whether proper protocol was followed by the Coast Guard. The report states no casualty investigation of the grounding or subsequent damage to the inspected vessel was conducted, nor was notice made of a credentialed master being medevaced. Moreover, despite concerns by the safety detachment about whether the Adventure Bound, or its operator, could safely travel, it was ordered by “higher leadership” to allow the vessel to continue to travel as a recreational vessel.
The report states that when the captain was allowed to continue on, the vessel’s destination was Westport, Washington, but the next period in the timeline of the report is Nov. 18, when the Adventure Bound arrived in Astoria, Oregon.
An inspector saw the vessel on drydock blocks there and was told by a yard representative it had been hauled out that morning, according to the report. Both propellers and the starboard side rudder were damaged, and the keel had damage in various areas, “indicative of a vessel grounding.” The inspector was not able to locate the captain of the vessel.
O’Brien did not specifically address the report’s allegation that protocol had not been followed in a written response. She noted, however, that the Adventure Bound was permitted to transit as a recreational vessel without paying passengers. “The federal safety standards governing recreational vessel operation are far less comprehensive than those governing passenger vessel operation.”
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