National Fisherman

Keep calm and abandon ship

From U.S. Coast Guard reports

The skipper and two-man crew of an 84-foot steel dragger were fishing for cod one evening on a mid-March trip out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska. At about 9:30, the weather began to worsen.

With inclement weather forecast for the next day, the skipper decided this haul-back would be the day's last. The crew and their NMFS observer would steam to a nearby port, unload the catch and repair some damaged gear.

The vessel cleared the north end of the pass around 11:55. The skipper asked to be awoken at 2 a.m., just before they'd enter port; the first mate took the helm.

At 1 a.m., the mate handed over the helm to the other crew member. As they neared the port, the crewman checked the chart. With the vessel steaming at 9 knots, he altered course for the harbor entrance.

At 2 a.m. a loud bang awoke the skipper, who headed for the wheelhouse. The sound of alarms greeted him, and he saw the crewman backing down on the throttle. The vessel had strayed into a reef area off the harbor entrance and hit a rock.

The mate instinctively checked the engine room. There, water was rising over the deck plates and was halfway up the side of the main engine.

As lights began flickering, he grabbed a flashlight and went to the observer's cabin. He calmly told her to "grab your warmest clothes and your survival suit and go up to the wheelhouse." After informing the skipper of the engine room flooding, he escorted the observer to the wheelhouse.

The skipper issued a mayday call, which another fishing vessel moored in the harbor acknowledged. The mate and crewman took the life raft from atop the wheelhouse, deployed it and tied it to the rail.

The skipper grabbed the EPIRB and the flare box and told the observer and crew to go on deck and don their survival suits. He made one more radio call to verify his position and announce that the crew was abandoning ship before joining the others in the raft.

The skipper activated the EPIRB, and the observer activated her PLB. One crewman had a safety knife ready to cut the painter. Within moments the vessel rolled over.

One of two fishing boats that arrived to help picked up all four survivors, who were transported to shore. None needed medical attention.

Lessons learned
An investigation revealed the helmsmen on duty made his course change approximately 10 minutes before 2 a.m., and fell asleep before the vessel strayed off course.

The crew said the watch alarm was in working order and usually set for 10 minutes. However, nobody knew if it was on, was about to sound when the collision occurred, or if the helmsman was just so fatigued he never heard the alarm.

Skippers must look for signs of fatigue in crewmen assigned to watches. The NMFS observer said she participated in a series of drills covering all emergency situations. During the sinking, she added, crew members calmly performed their assigned tasks as if it was safety drill. Keep conducting emergency drills and fish safe!

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