Captain’s Mishaps Culminate in Charter Boat Sinking

A Moorings catamaran rests partially underwater at the Enighed Pond Marine Facility barge ramp after it struck the reef outside the channel. St. John Tradewinds News Photo by Andrea Milam


A planned week of carefree boating in Virgin Islands waters on a captained Moorings charter boat turned into a vacation full of mishaps culminating in an accident that partially sunk the vessel.

A Moorings catamaran captained by Harry Birch struck the reef just outside of Enighed Pond on Thursday afternoon, July 26. No one was injured in the accident.

While most people would be stunned at their charter boat being involved in such an accident, Camilo Lopez III, who rented the boat for his family and friends, was not surprised.

“I told everyone that if we give it one more day, we’ll sink,” said Lopez.
Lopez’s concerns arose days earlier. Birch’s mishaps began on the first day the family friends went out on the charter boat, Lopez explained.

“We were concerned with him on the first day,” said Lopez. “He’s a nice guy, but was a little untidy. He got a propeller stuck to a mooring buoy, and he got our anchor tied to a buoy at Trunk Bay — the lifeguard had to swim out and get the anchor unstuck.”

Birch also clipped a fishing yacht as the catamaran was heading into Red Hook, Lopez added. The passengers shared their concern with Moorings employees in Tortola, where the boat was based, but were assured the captain was fine, according to Lopez.

Passenger Rescued Other Passengers
When the boat struck the reef just outside of Enighed Pond, it was Lopez who organized the rescue operation, he explained.

“It felt like a big thump, but nobody got hurt,” said Lopez. “The boat started listing, and everything started shutting off. I gave everyone life vests, and I got the dinghy and started taking people to shore.”

While Lopez hurried to get the 13 passengers to safety, the captain “didn’t know what was going on,” Lopez explained.
Everyone was brought to shore safely, and the catamaran was brought up to the barge ramp at Enighed Pond by the barge Mister B, where it sat halfway underwater as the V.I. Police Department and St. John Rescue interviewed the victims.
Moorings officials, who were unaware of any complaints against the captain, are conducting their own investigation into the accident.

“We’re still investigating, and we are very pleased that people are safe and there were no injuries,” said Van Perry of Moorings. “That’s the most important thing, that there were no injuries to our charter guests or the employee. We’re not aware of any comments about the captain, and we’re certainly investigating what happened and under what circumstances.”

Captain Likely to Be Cited
Birch will likely be cited for several different infractions, according to Department of Planning and Natural Resources spokesperson Jamal Nielsen.

“Harry Birch has been a captain for four years, and this was his first time sailing in the U.S. waters,” said Nielsen. “He claimed his GPS was not working and that he was distracted by his passengers. After an investigation, he probably will be cited, possibly for negligence and illegal discharge.”

Birch did not notify anyone following the accident, Nielsen continued.

“He didn’t call the Coast Guard, DPNR, or anybody — no maydays or anything,” he said.

Approximately less than 20 gallons of diesel fuel spilled during the accident, and DPNR worked to contain the spill, explained Nielsen.

“There wasn’t much we could do, as it had spread over 500 yards already,” he said. “Usually in this case, it will burn off and dissipate into the air. We placed booms all around the vessel to prevent any future leaks from the boat.”

Divers from DPNR’s Division of Fish and Wildlife are scheduled to assess possible damage to the reef this week.