We acknowledge your inconvenience as we regret what happened on that day of last september. At this point, it is imperative to identify the causes of the problems you have experienced, taking into account the responsibilities, which, as we notice, you appear attribute to our Association.
We are talking about the first days of september, you were in Ponza, on one of the sailboats associated to VelaPerTutti, during a sailing experience with a group of friends.
Severe weather condition was announced by the authorities and despite the atmospheric perturbation kept worsening you and your group had decided to leave from the Lazio coast anyway, heading to Ponza island.
Followingly it was 8 in the morning and you were moored in the Port of Ponza, close to the hydrofoil to Formia.
The hydrofoil is a large tonnage ferry transporting people and vehicles and needs ample maneuvering space.
At this point, the Port Authority of Ponza requested all the boats stationary on the quay to leave the Port since the ferry would have set sail imminently, consequently all the moored boats had to move to facilitate their safe passage, as per regulation.
Technical note: since the east wind (Levante) had risen, all the boats were required to position themselves behind the island with respect to the port, near the locality of Cala Feola, moving from the east coast to the west coast of the island, a necessary measure when that wind picks up very strongly, in order to enjoy the shield of the mainland precisely with respect to the direction of origin of the Levante, which comes from the east.
Leaving the Port of Ponza the sea was immediately very rough, and finding ourselves against the wind and with 3.5 meters high waves we could continue to move using only the engine, precisely because the wind was unusable for sailing from the bow.
The navigation crew, made up of 3 elements, was made up of captains Fabrizio Contedini and Stefano Tonti, accompanied by the instructor Giancarlo Franceschini, all three with over twenty years of experience.
At this point you were set to circumnavigate the southern end of the island of Ponza, complying with the custom of placing yourself in safety on the side of the island where the wind is precisely obstructed by the mainland.
Half a mile after leaving the Port, when – and we repeat it for clarity of exposition – the boat was in the same situation with a strong wind pushing it towards the rocks of mainland, the engine suddenly hesitated, running at times for 3-4 minutes, until it shutted down.
The crew promptly proceeded to replace the diesel pre-filter (which, for clarity, had been changed just a few hours before setting sail), assuming it could be “sludge” or accumulation of biodiesel debris afloat in the tank, potentially agitated by the strong upheaval due to bad weather and which perhaps could have unfortunately obstructed that pre-filter which then sends diesel to the engine.
The engine restarted, and navigation resumed normally over the next 5-8 minutes until the engine stalled again.
At this point the crew noticed that the pre-filter was this time soaked in water and not in diesel, as it should be.
We tried to bleed it promptly but the hose was clogged.
We will come back to the technical fault shortly, in the meantime let’s stay on the narration of what happened: the engine did not actually respond and did not start again, at the same time it was impossible to hoist the sails, for which operation it is necessary that the bow is directed towards the origin of the wind, an operation for which the use of the engine is required.
In all of this an absolute danger factor had arisen, represented by the strong gusts of east wind which pushed the boat towards the coast.
Since whoever will read this response to your comment may not be an expert in navigation, we specify that in these cases we try to drop the anchor in order to block the boat in that position and call for help having as much time as possible as wide as possible and maintaining a safe condition, away from the coast, albeit in heavy seas.
However, the depth of the seabed was greater than 50 meters and it was not possible to drop the anchor.
In the following minutes other attempts to anchor took place, while the personnel on board triggered the emergency manoeuvres: while the two captains made the whole crew wear life jackets, the instructor called May Day, communicating the latitude and longitude of the damaged vessel to the Port Authority.
The captains immediately prepared the life rafts for abandoning the boat and making the crew safe, while the instructor monitored the progress of the depth gauge, and as the boat arrived at a depth of about 15 meters , the instructor proceeded to drop the anchor.
This time the anchor clung to the seabed: the hold of the anchor chain was therefore strengthened with a line on the bow bollards.
At this point the boat remained anchored to the seabed, avoiding the imminent collision against the rocks, while the sea wave remained about 3.5 meters high.
In the space of a handful of minutes, help from the Ponza Coast Guard arrived and a tugboat from the private company “Ciccio Nero” hooked us up and brought us safely back into the port.
Once the crew disembarked, we called the Port mechanic to analyze what happened: it soon became clear that the still almost full petrol tanks also housed an absolutely out of the ordinary quantity of water.
A few days after that day, we read the news that the diesel supplier of the Port of Nettuno had created a worrying number of problems in the boats that had refueled there in the previous week, with repercussions sometimes similar, unfortunately, to the breakdown that you yourselves have lived as a crew together with our Captains in those hours.
While we regret the certainly unpleasant and touching experience that you have lived with us, we would like to clarify that the technical crew that accompanied you stands as a top brigade in the maritime ranks of Lazio coasts as for variety and duration of their two-decade-and-a-half sailing experience in the Mediterranean Sea.
Starting from that, it was also difficult to claim a strict legal responsibility to be blamed on the Nettuno diesel supplier, since it is not demonstrable by our Association that there were no diesel additions at a later time in our boat’s fuel tanks after that fill up at Nettuno’s supplier.
At the same time, we as an Association are aware of having complied with the ritual procedures, which in this case are the seasonal emptying of the tanks with their deep cleaning and the frequent replacement of the various dedicated filters.
On the other hand it’s true and evident that a crew in command on board cannot be held responsible for the unfortunate bad weather of those days, which is one more reason why you then gave up on continuing your holiday once the damage on board was repaired.
Ironically just as the exceptionally violent disturbance occurred that morning had not been reported, in the same way it hadn’t been foreseen that shortly thereafter the weather would return to a very bright sunset…
…But by now unfortunately you had gone away, you had set sail on a ferry towards the Roman coast.
Humanly we are aware of what you have experienced and with great frankness we understand the disagreement, the fear, the difficulty in accepting such a moment of emergency and a feeling of stinging danger.
While I as a writer feel in your shoes, it seems almost necessary to point out that our crew did actually a great job, even if it may seem counterintuitive to you who wrote this comment, instead the actions of these operators on board were correct and saved your life and the life of your comrades, respecting thoroughly the emergency procedure.
However, the regret of having shared a difficult experience with you remains, and we certainly understand how venting about our Association can seem like a solution, being able to point the finger at someone sometimes helps to metabolize a dramatic experience.
We would like to be able to go back, have the possibility of making you and your friends live a positive experience, even if it is clearly not possible now, just as we would like it if you understood how the responsibilities for what happened were determined not by our negligence (in what, in fact?) but by an obviously not exemplary conduct on the part of third parties, by extremely sudden meteorological adversities, and lastly by the mix of critical events, such as having to leave the Port of Ponza to give maneuvering space to the hydrofoil that was to set sail, as well as the lack of foresighting of a full-blown storm, destined to break against our boat in those awful 3 hours of navigation.
Prendiamo atto del Suo disagio e ce ne rammarichiamo. È imperativo a questo punto individuare le cause delle problematiche che Lei ha vissuto, tenendo conto delle responsabilità, che come Lei afferma sarebbero da addebitarsi alla nostra Associazione.