State and federal investigators yesterday got their first look at the hull of a 60-foot fishing boat that sank Sunday in the Chesapeake Bay off Point Lookout, causing the deaths of two of the 23 people on board.
The El Toro II had been towed ashore overnight to a marina at Ridge, which is just north of Point Lookout in southern St. Mary's County.
Investigators seeking the cause of the accident focused on wooden planks along the hull.
Several of the 10-inch-wide planks were loose, the investigators said.
Lt. Randy Witter, commander of the investigation division of the state Natural Resources Police, said that the nails holding the planks in place may have come loose when the boat was being battered by 6- to 8-foot waves, or the wood may have been rotten.
"At this time, without further tests and examination, we have no way of knowing what caused that wood to separate," he said.
Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Michael Kearney said that the El Toro II had passed an inspection -- including an examination of the hull -- in April.
The Coast Guard hopes to hold a public board of inquiry into the accident as early as Monday in Baltimore, he said.
In the meantime, two of the remaining three hospitalized survivors were released from St. Mary's Hospital in Leonardtown yesterday morning.
The two are Gwak Gyoung and Sunil Kim, both of Rockville.
The boat's owner, Joseph C. Lore of Ridge, was moved out of the intensive-care unit and listed in fair condition.
The El Toro sank Sunday afternoon in gale-force winds, stranding the 23 passengers and crew in 50-degree water. All are believed to have been wearing life jackets and while in the water held to a large floating life ring that was carried aboard the El Toro. Using helicopters and boats, the Navy and Coast Guard and state police pulled all of the 23 people from the water, but two later died of cardiac arrest.
The Coast Guard annually inspects boats carrying more than six passengers for everything from carrying an adequate number of life jackets to the condition of the engine. The El Toro passed all those requirements -- including those for safety -- last spring, Mr. Kearney said.
Under federal regulation, charter fishing boats of its size in the bay must carry enough life preservers for all passengers. In addition, each must carry a "buoyant apparatus" -- in this case the large floating life ring -- to accommodate 30 percent of the passengers.
The El Toro sank Sunday afternoon. All 23 who were aboard were pulled from the water, but two later died.
By contrast, oceangoing vessels must carry enough life rafts to accommodate all passengers.
Coast Guard officials could not explain the logic behind requiring a large life ring that could support only 30 percent of a craft's legal limit of passengers.
Jack O'Dell, a Coast Guard spokesman, said the regulations are generally based on the size of the body of water and vessel as well as the economics and feasibility of the safety equipment.
Large charter fishing boats rarely sink in the Chesapeake and its tributaries, Lieutenant Witter said.
He said that the last major accident he could recall occurred two or three years ago when a boat struck a buoy off Tilghman Island. No one died.
More common are capsizings and accidents involving small craft. As of the end of September, there had been 25 sinkings, six floodings and 33 capsizings this year in Maryland's share of the Chesapeake and its tidewater tributaries.