The insurance inspector who saw the El Toro II five days before it sank in the Chesapeake Bay Dec. 5 noted plenty of safety hazards, but told investigators yesterday he found no evidence the hull was unseaworthy.
The wooden boat was on a rockfishing expedition to Virginia waters when its hull ruptured during a storm and the boat sank, killing three.
Kim I. MacCartney, a marine surveyor for the Insurance Company of North America, inspected the boat Nov. 29 and wrote that the El Toro II "may be the worst Coast Guard-inspected boat I have seen."
But no one, including the boat's owner, Joseph C. Lore, saw the report. By the time Mr. MacCartney was ready to mail it, he had heard news of the boat's sinking.
Mr. MacCartney told a Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board hearing that if he had known that the El Toro was scheduled to go out on another fishing expedition, he would have notified his supervisors immediately and recommended that the boat be placed in the status of "port risk." With such a status, the boat would have been unable to leave port without the underwriter's approval.
But with the Maryland rockfish season over and other boats in the area out of commission for the winter, Mr. MacCartney said, he assumed the El Toro would not be going out again. He said he did not know that the boat was fishing in Virginia, which has a longer rockfish season.
During his inspection, Mr. MacCartney cited 21 safety problems with the boat, including poor wiring, filthy bilges, sloppy stowage of life jackets, unsecured batteries and leaking around a structural bolt.
When he talked to supervisors in Philadelphia, he told them that the El Toro was the worst of five boats owned by Mr. Lore that he had inspected. His supervisor told him that no action would be taken until a report was filed, he said.
Yet for all the hazards, Mr. MacCartney said he saw nothing to indicate that the hull was unseaworthy.
"Structurally, she looked in pretty good condition," he said.
After the boat was pulled from the water, Mr. MacCartney went to see it.
"I was so concerned by this, I went back to the vessel," he said yesterday. "I wanted to know if there was something that I'd missed."
But Mr. MacCartney said that when he saw the hole, at the keel slightly ahead of the middle of the ship, he believed he could have done nothing differently.
He said even a dry dock inspection probably would not have uncovered a problem with the particular fasteners that failed.
"To identify the three planks that fell off this vessel would have been a crap shoot," he said.
At least two different theories have emerged as to why the hull ruptured. According to a report prepared by a marine electrical specialist, interaction between various metals in the hull created an electrical field that caused some of the boat's nails or fasteners to corrode.
Another expert testified that the boat's fuel tank may have fallen through the hull.
Testimony is expected to finish Monday, when examiners will interview Mr. Lore and his wife.
Coast Guard Cmdr. Glenn Anderson, who is conducting the inquiry, said a report will be made to the Coast Guard commandant within six months.
The NTSB, which is doing an independent investigation, probably will release its findings within a year, according to Ash Chatterjee, an NTSB naval architect in charge of the investigation.