Portland Spirit captain did not have right of way, Coast Guard says

A Portland Spirit captain was suspended after a close call with rowers

PORTLAND, Ore. – A captain of the Portland Spirit was suspended for 90 days for a close call with rowers during the Portland Fall Classic Regatta last month.

Portland Spirit President Dan Yates said the captain, Lowell Gillespie Jr., did not perform up to proper safety standards. Photos showed the cruise ship several feet away from rowers on the Willamette River during the Oct. 29 event.

Richard Parr, who coaches the Vashon Island Rowing Club, said one of the boats was being steered by a 14-year-old girl. Parr said the girl did all the right things to avoid a collision.

Sgt. Brandon White of the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office told The Oregonian/OregonLive that the Portland Spirit technically had the right of way, and the sheriff's office hasn't received any complaints about the incident.

The U.S. Coast Guard, which is investigating the encounter, had a different opinion, however. On Tuesday, a Coast Guard official told The Oregonian/OregonLive that the Portland Spirit did not have right of way.

U.S. Coast Guard marine investigator Travis Nolen said the captain of the ship could have waited for the rowers to pass, crossed behind them or continued in front of them, if they weren't too close. Instead, Nolen said, the captain did not change course or reduce speed and the rowers were forced to change course to avoid colliding with the ship.

The suspension wasn’t the first for Gillespie. He was operating the Portland Spirit when it ran into other boats during the infamous Red Bull Flugtag competition in 2015. An administrative law judge for the U.S. Coast Guard suspended Gillespie after ruling the captain violated a navigation rule.

© 2017 KGW-TV


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