The Coast Guard has temporarily relieved the commander of the buoy tender Hickory, citing “leadership deficiencies” that contributed to a shore side crane accident that killed a crew member.

Chief Warrant Officer Michael Kozloski was struck by the Shuttlelift crane boom when the machine tipped over, as its operator attempted to move a pallet of buoy equipment Jan. 31, 2019 at the Hickory’s Homer, Alaska homeport.

The crane operator’s “judgement and decision making errors in attempting to execute a lift exceeding the operating capabilities of the equipment were the direct cause of the mishap,” according to a report by a Coast Guard investigation board released Tuesday.

“However, his operation of (the crane) on the day of the mishap was the last link in an error chain of consistent and long-standing leadership deficiencies and complacency with shore side heavy lift operations,” the report states.

As a result, Rear Adm. Matthew Bell Jr., commander of the Coast Guard 17th District, temporarily relieved Lt. Cmdr. Adam Leggett of command of the Hickory, citing a loss of confidence in his ability to perform his duty. Temporary relief of command is a first step toward a formal review.

The crane was moving a pallet of aids to navigation equipment when the accident happened. Coast Guard photo

The crane was moving a pallet of aids to navigation equipment when the accident happened. Coast Guard photo

The Hickory crew was working in the buoy yard at Homer, performing maintenance, cleanup and organizational tasks to prepare for getting the 225’x46’x13’ seagoing tender underway.

Two crew members were working as the crane operator and rigger to move four pallet loads with aids to navigation equipment from atop Container Express (CONEX) boxes so they could be carried by forklift to other spots in the yard.

As they moved the fourth and final load around 1:50 p.m., the crane tipped over and fell, striking Kozloski who was standing talking to another crew member “within the crane-operating envelope,” according to the board’s report.

Emergency medical crews responded, performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Kozloski and taking him to South Peninsula Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Kozloski, 35, a native of Mahopac, N.Y., served 17 years in the Coast Guard and was married with four young children.

The board report enumerates factors that may have contributed to the accident, citing a lack of safety oversight, failure to accurately estimate load weights, and the fact that no one other than the crane operator and rigger were wearing hard hats.

The last load that tipped the crane was unbalanced, with heavy buoy bells on one side of the pallet and lighter battery boxes on the other, the report notes.

But foremost the board blamed the Hickory’s leadership – both officers and senior enlisted – for permitting non-qualified operators to carry out duties like crane operation, and a lack of oversight in shore side heavy lift operations.

“This environment fostered complacency among the junior ranks who trusted their leadership to hold members accountable when appropriate based on the example they set in underway operations,” the report states.

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.