CAPE MAY — The sinking of the scallop boat Lady Mary may remain mired in controversy four years later, but the death of six Cape May County fishermen who were aboard March 24, 2009, is leading to sweeping changes in commercial fishing safety regulations.
The Coast Guard issued 45 recommendations in its recently released report on the sinking covering issues including training, vessel stability, licensing, inspections, watertight features, electronics, drug testing and many others. Some of those recommendations are being implemented now. They represent the first proposed major changes to fishing vessel safety in decades.
"It's a tragic case, and I still feel for the families. That's why we're doing what we're doing," Coast Guard Cmdr. Kyle McAvoy said.
Lady Mary's owners continue to blame the sinking on a collision with a cargo ship, but the Coast Guard said there is no evidence of a collision. Instead, the USCG blames the sinking on unsafe conditions and an improperly trained crew.
Both sides, however, support efforts to learn from the tragedy.
McAvoy headed the Marine Board of Investigation inquiry into the sinking and has been promoted since to chief of the Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance for the Coast Guard. He's now in charge of trying to institute many of the recommendations he made during the inquiry. Some already have made it into the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010, though they have not been turned into regulations yet.
The inquiry was completed two years ago, but was not released to the public until August. McAvoy said it took two years to get clearance to release the report.
Jack Kemerer, chief of the Fishing Vessel Division in the Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance, said the Lady Mary's sinking already has influenced the first major changes to fishing vessel safety since 1988, when the first federal law was enacted.