Research vessel damages reef, does not report incident timely

A University of Miami marine research vessel crashed into a coral reef in Biscayne National Park on Oct. 13, but the crew did not notify authorities, said Jennifer Johnson, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson.

The incident was reported later by Otis Brown, dean of the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, who sent an “official memorandum” to Biscayne National Park, said university spokesperson Barbra Gonzalez. Gonzalez said she is not authorized to divulge information about the length of time it took to report the incident. Still, Brown will be leading an internal investigation.

Parks managers said it took 10 days to report the incident, The Miami Herald reported.

The vessel crashed on its way down Hawk Channel when it hit a reef southeast of Elliot Key. The captain and crew onboard were UM employees accompanied by members from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“The master of the vessel is supposed to verbally notify the Coast Guard immediately,” Johnson said. “They then have five days to file a written report, a federal form, required for all vessels that run aground. They didn’t do either.”

Johnson added that the university could face civil penalties in addition to having their license suspended or revoked. The Department of the Interior will handle consequences of damage done to the environment.

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the crew for possible negligence and for failing to immediately report the grounding to marine safety officers. Brown said the captain did not report the incident because after the crash he determined the vessel was still fit to sail.

Brown said the incident was not properly reported but that it was not intended to be covered up.

“We are all quite concerned about any damage to the environment and are particularly concerned about local coral ecosystems,” Brown said. “We have offered to work with the Park Service to repair any damage. Moreover, we are reviewing and strengthening all sailing procedures to minimize the possibility of any future accidents.”

Chelsea Kate Isaacs may be contacted at