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James City County marine patrol officers tasked with rescuing a boat on the James River overcame harsh weather conditions and equipment malfunctions, leading to their recognition as “most improved” at a regional maritime forum.
Hosted by the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads and the Port of Virginia Maritime Incident Response Team, the forum consisted of 20 agencies who were given classroom and practical exercises, nighttime training and incident response scenarios over four days at the Crowne Plaza Hampton Marina.
One of the forum’s exercises on March 4 called for the agencies to use a specific search pattern and an electronic navigation system to find an 18-foot vessel, Sgt. Brian Staton with the James City County Marine Patrol said.
He and his three colleagues — Sean Gormus, Lonnie Bain and Mike Ferriero — struggled with the exercise, as heavy fog prevented them from seeing even a few feet in front of them and caused their electronic navigation system to fail.
“We had a hard time even getting our bearings straight,” Staton said, explaining the crew had to be escorted back to shore and give up their mission. “There comes a time when the supervisor had to say enough is enough, the risk is too high,” but the “guys were let down.”
The next day, the four-man crew decided to try a different tactic on a similar search exercise. This time, they employed chart plotters instead of relying solely on their electronic navigation system.
With nicer weather and a new plan, the crew was “upbeat” as they headed out into the water, Staton said.
During the search, they spotted a small, 18-foot boat sitting off the search pattern the crew was directed to follow.
The crew was not able to detect a signal that normally reverberates on commercial watercraft, so they decided to call the command center and alert them of their finding.
After being told to abort the search pattern and retrieve the vessel, the team found out they successfully completed the exercise — and were the only team to do so, which earned them a “most improved” award.
“The thing that really was rewarding is that the team was faced with conditions that were outside of their control,” Staton said. “They stopped, they came together, they came up with a plan to overcome this problem.”