USS BONHOMME RICHARD (LHD 6), Collision, 8 August 2005

Sailboat, Assault Ship Collided, Navy Confirms

The amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard looming out of the fog in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Canada when a 36-foot sailboat, the Mareeka II turned hard to port to get out of the way of the 40,000-ton ship. But was too late. The bow pulpit of the sailboat made contact with the starboard side of Bonhomme Richard.

The wake ahead of the 844-foot warship’s bow helped shove the sailboat out of the way.

Navy confirmed the collision, saying the warship was traveling west, in the outbound lane of the strait’s traffic separation scheme, meant to help prevent collisions. Ships coming east to U.S. and Canadian ports stay in the inbound lane to the south, with a wide area separating the two streams of traffic.

The collision occurred where the Navy said Bonhomme Richard was operating – in the outbound lane of the traffic separation scheme.

And according to Ed LaRue, head of the Navigation Safety Team for Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C., a vessel less than 20 meters in length is prohibited from impeding the passage of another vessel using a traffic lane. A small vessel crossing a traffic lane is supposed to transit it without causing vessels using the lane to change course or slow down, LaRue said.

Judged by those rules, the sailboat shouldn’t have crossed into the path of Bonhomme Richard. Although it was foggy with an estimated visibility at about 100 yards, the sailboat was not sounding a fog signal.

The collision was reported to the Coast Guard, which monitors traffic and responds to distress calls in that area of the strait by agreement with Canada.