Coast Guard Honors Katmai Accident Lead Investigator

Cmdr. Malcolm McLellan was lead investigator of the October 2008 sinking of the fishing vessel in Amchitka Pass, Alaska, which killed seven crew members, and he developed a communication action plan that changed the way the organization handles formal investigations.

The U.S. Coast Guard's most recent Shipmate of the Week is Cmdr. Malcolm McLellan, who was lead investigator heading the team that investigated why the fishing boat Katmai sank Oct. 22, 2008, in Amchitka Pass, Alaska.

LTJG Katherine Gaudette posted a report on the honor Aug. 19 on USCG's Compass blog that explained how McClellan changed the way the organization handles formal investigations. McLellan sat on the Commandant Marine Board of Investigation for the Katmai sinking. These boards are the most formal, highest-level marine casualty investigation conducted by the Coast Guard, and this was the first one since 2001, she explained.

As Gaudette recounted, McLellan and his team realized during the investigation that there were inconsistencies in the investigation process when it came to communicating with next of kin and the Coast Guard’s duty to make the report available to the public. Seeing this need, McLellan developed a communication action plan and effectively changed the way the Coast Guard handles formal investigations. His plan incorporated the same messages for the families involved, congressional updates, and media releases, ensuring the accuracy of information being published.

The team concluded the Katmai sank because it was overloaded with more than 47,000 pounds of cargo, exposed to heavy seas and high winds, and its watertight doors were not properly secured. "These findings ultimately resulted in 32 safety recommendations," Gaudette wrote.

"Commander McLellan's ability to professionally yet compassionately engage with the grieving survivors during an incredibly trying time while at the same time ensuring they understood factual elements of the accident as well as our safety recommendations was impressive," Capt. David Fish, chief of the Office of Investigations and Casualty Analysis, said in her report. "His actions set the benchmark for future Marine Boards’ use of the communication action plan. Additionally, his analysis and detailed lessons learned and safety recommendations stemming from this tragic event will assist fisherman in plying the dangerous waters off Alaska for years to come."

McLellan and his team submitted their report in six months, "a feat not accomplished previously," she added. "Most, if not all, marine casualty investigations can and should be completed in a year or less to ensure the lessons learned from the investigation can be promptly addressed through well-developed preventative safety recommendations,” said McLellan.

The Coast Guard released its final report on the Katmai investigation in May 2010. Its investigations and public hearings were conducted in Anchorage and Seattle by Coast Guard investigators with assistance from the National Transportation Safety Board.

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