Advertisement
  1. Environment

Rough seas: A St. Pete research ship crashes into docks and yachts, and people lose their jobs

From left, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft, and Florida Institute of Oceanography marine operations manager Rob Walker aboard the R/V W. T. Hogarth during a welcome ceremony for the research vessel at Bayboro Harbor. [Times (2017)]
Published Jun. 14

ST. PETERSBURG — Last year, a scientific research ship normally anchored at the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus smacked into two yachts as its crew tried to squeeze into a tight Miami Beach boat slip.

On the way out the next day, the 78-foot R/V W.T. Hogarth banged into one of the boats again, collided with the dock and snapped a piling.

Those two crashes were part of what an expert called "a chain of accidents" last year involving the $6 million ship owned by the Florida Institute of Oceanography -— accidents that racked up big repair bills, seriously injured crew members, caused the departure of one captain and sparked a lengthy safety review.

Now the director of the institute has been ousted. He says it was because he was trying to follow the review's recommendations for improving ship safety.

"There were a number of things in that report that I was trying to implement," Philip Kramer said in an interview. "The things I was trying to do didn't go over so well with the University of South Florida."

In May, USF officials let him know they "wanted to go in a different direction," said Kramer, a marine geologist with a Ph.D. who had run the institute for three years. He resigned.

"After considering input from our stakeholders and discussions with Dr. Kramer, it was determined that new leadership was in the best interests of the Florida Institute of Oceanography," USF provost Ralph Wilcox said in a statement emailed to the Tampa Bay Times.

The Florida Institute of Oceanography is an odd duck. Founded in 1967, the institute and its $2.5 million budget are not really a part of USF but its administration is overseen by the school. Its resources are supposed to be available throughout the state university system, but it has nowhere else to dock its ships except USF St. Petersburg's waterfront campus. Most of its 27 employees work out the same building as USF"s College of Marine Sciences.

Scientists who work for a state university and who want to use the Hogarth or its sister ship, the 115-foot R/V Weatherbird II, for research projects can catch a ride on one at no charge, explained James Garey, a USF vice provost who's now filling in as the institute's executive director. The ships have gone all over the gulf, as well as up and down the state's Atlantic coast. They're both on the water 200 days a year, he said. More recently, they carried scientists to collect data related to the 14-month Red Tide algae bloom.

Two events in 2017 proved to be a turning point for the institute. One was the launching of the Hogarth, built in a Tarpon Springs shipyard, to replace another ship that was 45 years old, the R/V Bellows. The second: Then-Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a $1.2 million appropriation, slashing the institute's capabilities. (In 2015 he had vetoed a $6 million appropriation to build the Hogarth.)

"I heard (the 2017 veto) was fairly devastating to the people who worked here," Garey said.

To cope with the loss of funding, the institute raided its reserves, Garey said. It also began hiring temporary employees to man its ships, some of them lacking essential maritime skills, according to the 2018 safety review. They got seasick or didn't know how to run things properly, the review found. It concluded the constant turnover hurt morale, as did the 14-hour work days and the institute's efforts to skimp on overtime pay. And it found some of the permanent employees burned out and quit, to be replaced by more temporary sailors, the review said.

What developed, according to the review, was a "relaxed safety culture" at the institute, which led to what its author called "a chain of accidents" involving the Hogarth.

The Hogarth was touring ports around the state to show off the new ship to the universities that contributed $3 million to its construction. But not all the equipment on the ship worked properly, including a propulsion device known as a bow thruster that a crew uses to maneuver the ship's front end.

On the morning of Jan. 31, 2018, the crew of the Hogarth was trying to ease into a berth at the Miami Beach Marina. Two large yachts were moored on either side. Because the crew couldn't maneuver very well without the bow thruster, it banged into both the 191-foot Carpe Diem and the 80-foot Coal Blooded, scraping paint but causing no serious damage, according to the marina's report on the incident.

The next day was worse.

"The Hogarth, while attempting to leave the marina, collided with the starboard bow of the Coal Blooded, causing damages," the marina's report states. "The port bow of the Hogarth also made contact with the dock, causing damages to the concrete and breaking a piling in half."

A video of that crash shows the ship awkwardly lurching back and forth. Men on the dock yell warnings about what it's about to hit. Then comes a crunching sound.

Insurance covered the cost: $4,375 for damaging the dock and $12,179 to repair the Coal Blooded.

Two weeks after the Miami Beach docking collisions, the Hogarth tied up in Fort Myers. Before leaving St. Petersburg, a piece of scientific equipment had fallen over and damaged the gangplank, so the captain had left it behind, Kramer said. The temporary gangplank the crew rigged up worked fine until Fort Myers, where suddenly it didn't.

As a result, a longtime crew member, a cook, fell and seriously injured his knee. The cook, Patrick Foster, said he could not discuss his injury claim, which remains unresolved.

"He's been out for over a year now," Kramer said. After that, he said, "the captain was let go." That meant the crew of temps aboard the Hogarth were under a temporary captain, too.

There were other injuries as well, including one involving someone who fell off the captain's chair. Because of the injuries, the institute hired retired admiral Mike Devany and his Seattle-based Oceans 360 Group to perform the safety review.

Devany interviewed all the ships' current employees and some former ones, and spent time aboard both the Hogarth and the Weatherbird II. His report blasted the institute not only for running the Hogarth in an unsafe manner, but also for failing to fully document its accidents. He found plenty more that was wrong, too.

"Most of the maintenance records are in the engineer's head," he wrote. He urged the institute to hire permanent crew members and pay them more, to attract qualified applicants.

He criticized the institute for not having a position called "marine superintendent," to serve as a safety watchdog (the position had been eliminated in 2012 by Kramer's predecessor, William Hogarth, the namesake of the accident-prone ship.) He found the institute to be "a house divided" with no one really in charge.

Kramer said that implementing the admiral's recommendations required him to draw up a reorganization plan for the institute, begin hiring people and invest in better equipment for the ships. To pay for that, he planned to reduce what is spent on other parts of the institute, including a remote laboratory it runs in the Keys.

His reorganization plan found no fans in the USF provost's office, he said, and "I spent much of the last three months or so spinning my wheels." He said he also was trying to change the membership of the institute's grant review board to eliminate conflicts of interest. He was particularly concerned that USF officials sat on the board that judged grant applicants from the university. That went nowhere either, he said.

Wilcox, in his email to the Times, said when it comes to the admiral's safety recommendations, USF officials are definitely on board. He said that the institute will be "developing a new management structure with a newly created marine superintendent position. In order to meet these commitments, (the institute) will invest approximately $405,000 in one-time expenses and $340,000 in recurring costs."

Safety is a priority for the institute, Garey said. But he noted that there's no way to prevent unforeseen mishaps?.

"Working on a ship," he said, "is never 100 percent safe."

Times senior researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Craig Pittman at craig@tampabay.com . Follow @craigtimes.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Neighbors had objected to the Lago Verde mine in north-central Pasco and then the adjoining Seven Diamonds LLC mine for the past seven years. The Seven Diamonds mine is now adding 60 additional acres to increase in size by one-fifth.
    The Seven Diamonds LLC mine is adding 60 acres, increasing in size by one-fifth.
  2. An man wades through flooded streets with bags of groceries in the Shore Acres neighborhood of St. Petersburg during Tropical Storm Colin in 2016. LOREN ELLIOTT  |  Loren Elliott / Tampa Bay Times
    The city plans to adjust its stormwater billing so homeowners with the most impervious surface area pay the most.
  3. A tegu lizard belonging to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is displayed during a press conference. Tampa Bay Times (2014)
    The invasive lizards, which can reach five feet in length, are well established in east Hillsborough.
  4. Rendering of the new Shore Acres Recreation Center that will replace the current structure at 4230 Shore Acres Blvd. NE, St. Petersburg Wannemacher Jensen Architects
    The long-desired project is praised, but some neighbors worry about its proposed height and a new entrance and exit on busy 40th Avenue NE
  5. An administrative judge said a Pasco County ordinance allowing solar farms in agricultural districts did not violate the county's comprehensive land-use plan. Times
    An ordinance did not violate the county’s land-use plan that is supposed to protect rural Northeast Pasco, a judge said.
  6. Diver Everton Simpson untangles lines of staghorn coral at a coral nursery inside the White River Fish Sanctuary on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. On the ocean floor, small coral fragments dangle from suspended ropes, like socks hung on a laundry line. Divers tend to this underwater nursery as gardeners mind a flower bed, slowly and painstakingly plucking off snails and fireworms that feast on immature coral. DAVID J. PHILLIP  |  AP
    On the ocean floor, small coral fragments dangle from suspended ropes, as socks hung on a laundry line.
  7. In his basement office Harry Lee, a retired Jacksonville doctor, who began collecting shells when he was 6 still spends time classifying shells. He's  79 now, and until recently he had what was considered the largest personal shell collection in the world, including quite a few shells that were unknown to science before he discovered them. But he's now given about a third of his collection to the Florida Museum of Natural History, where he also does volunteer work.
(Dede Smith/ Special) Dede Smith for the Times
    Harry Lee has spent seven decades traveling the world collecting shells — and even found one unknown to science in his own back yard
  8.  Designed by Tara McCarty
    Clearwater to host sustainability conference
  9. Fisherman Peyton Vaughan, 58, St. Petersburg, left, throws his cast net for bait, off of the north rest area of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge as the Precious Seas Cargo Ship, background, heads toward Tampa in Tampa Bay from the Gulf. A new study has found about 4 billion pieces of microplastics polluting the bay, which can affect the health of marine life in the bay.
    Now scientists will determine the impact on the animals that live in Florida’s largest estuary.
  10. Members of the fire rescue team Task Force 8, from Gainesville help remove a body one week after Hurricane Dorian hit The Mudd neighborhood in the Marsh Harbor area of Abaco Island, Bahamas, on Monday. GONZALO GAUDENZI  |  AP
    The storm’s devastation highlights a risk public health experts have long warned about.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement