Lest we be too quick to castigate Lt. Cmdr. Fassero . . .

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Posted by Ken Kurtis on May 13, 2004 at 16:54:53:

Before we rush to judgment about what's going on in the Drifting Dan incident, I'd like to share with you some information that I have.

There was a similar case in Flroida where the boat left and divers drifted for hours. In that case, the US Attorney took over and filed criminal charges of gross negligence aginst both the captain of the vessel and the divemaster.

In this case, the initial repsonse of the USCG (higher up than Fassero) was that this looked like the Florida case and the initial plan was that it would be referred to the US Attoryney to pursue criminal charges of gross negligence against at least Ray as captain and Zach as DM.

It was Lt. Cmdr. Fassero who became the voice of reason within the USCG and steered this to it's present state. And while I full well understand that many of you think the current result is unfair to Ray, trust me, it could have been a LOT worse.

Also bear in mind that the Coast Guard has somewhat limited options. This incident not only got a lot of local coverage but also made the national news. It put a laser beam on the what was perceived as deficiencies within the local diving community. There was no way the Coast Guard wasn't going to do SOMEthing.

The dilemma they have is that they don't license nor have jurisdiction over the divers. They don't license nor have jurisdiction over the buddies. They don't license nor have jurisdiction over the DMs.

However, they DO license and have jurisdiction over the boat captain. And it's well-established in martime law that the captain bears the ultimate responsibility (different than culpability) for the safety of his passengers and vessel. (Think of the story of Lee Hazelwood, the captain of the Exxon Valdez, who was asleep in his bunk when his third mate ran the tanker aground on Bligh Reef.)

So this all may not seem fair since Ray isn't the one who screwed up the roll call, and it may not seem fair because he relied on what he thought was a competent DM. It may not be fair . . . but unfortunately that's where we are. But it beats the other option.

And, knowing that USCG can't just sit back and say, "Oh well," if anyone's got some concrete suggestions, I personally would be happy to pass them on. But just remember, it could have been a LOT worse. And Lt. Cmdr. Fassero has had a lot to do with this not REALLY getting out of hand.

So before we all start posturing, let's make sure we really understand the serious nature of what happened (many of us in this industry are amazed and thankful that Drifting Dan didn't get run over and killed in the fog) and make sure that we, as an industry, take steps to make sure this doesn't happen again.

If you want to write a letter or e-mail in support of Ray, that's teriffic. He's a good guy (IMHO) who's catching the heat for a situation niotof his own making. And Fassero and the USCG are on record as stating that they're aware that this was a highly unusual occurence for the SoCal dive indusrty and thast Ray has been fully cooperative from the git-go.

But if all you want to do is castigate the USCG and Fassero, and tell them where they can stick their findings, that may in the long run prove to be counter-productive. There's still some maneuvering going on behind the scenes and it would be nice not to upset that.

Ken Kurtis
NAUI Instr. #5936
Co-owner, Reef Seekers Dive Co.
Beverly Hills, CA

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