An unidentified vessel operator forced five large commercial vessels to take evasive action in Puget Sound near Port Townsend, Wash., Thursday morning.
At approximately 4:30 a.m., an intermittent radar contact was reported to the Coast Guard Puget Sound Vessel Traffic Service (Seattle Traffic) by a tug operator and several Puget Sound Pilots transiting the area near Marrowstone Point, Wash. The unknown vessel operator impeded a procession of north and southbound commercial traffic in low visibility with no radio communications. Two southbound vessels, a large container ship followed by a laden tanker under escort, were forced to depart their charted traffic lane toward oncoming commercial traffic. Three northbound deep draft vessels were advised and diverted eastward of the north bound lane by Seattle Traffic to allow safe passage. The five commercial vessels were diverted and re-routed under the guidance and concurrence of Seattle Traffic. Also, the Puget Sound Pilots on board the vessels acted calmly and professionally to avert what could have become a potentially disastrous situation by steering away from the errant vessel. After several close encounters with commercial traffic, the unidentified vessel was observed departing for the safety of Port Townsend Harbor.
The Coast Guard manages numerous disoriented vessel cases throughout the boating season in Puget Sound. These incidents become more dangerous as fall weather patterns emerge bringing ‘coastal' or advection fog. Often the weather and visibility will appear favorable in one location but will quickly deteriorate along an intended route. Some areas, such as Point Wilson near the confluence of Admiralty Inlet and the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, experience reduced visibility nearly year round that may catch recreational boaters unprepared for low visibility navigation.