National Fisherman

Persistence and assistance win the day

From U.S. Coast Guard reports

One cold, windy January evening, an Alaska Coast Guard Communications Center received a mayday call. A 50-foot longliner was reporting uncontrolled flooding from an unknown source.

Aboard the fishing vessel, the skipper and a crew of four worked frantically to determine the source of the flooding. The boat's four bilge pumps couldn't match the deluge of incoming water, leading the skipper to instruct the crew to don their immersion suits and prepare their survival gear.

A Coast Guard helicopter lowered a self-contained P-100 pump (capable of discharging 100 gallons per minute) to the longliner.

Although wave action and the cumbersome immersion suits complicated the process, the crew moved the bulky dewatering pump into position. But the cold and the immersion suits' fingerless gloves made grasping the pump engine's pull-cord handle difficult, foiling repeated efforts to start the 10-hp engine.

With the vessel now down by the bow, the skipper issued the order to abandon ship. The rescue helicopter pilots checked their fuel and realized they might soon have to return to base.

The helicopter crew broadcast a radio message requesting assistance from vessels in the vicinity. A nearby longliner heard the message, stopped fishing and steamed toward the scene.

Meanwhile, in 35-knot winds, the men aboard the distressed vessel deployed and inflated their life raft. One by one the men jumped from their boat and struggled to enter the raft. A Coast Guard rescue swimmer was there to assist in case anyone dropped into the 40-degree water.

After the second crew member was retrieved, the helicopter winch operator alerted the pilots that the hoisting cable was frayed. Fearing the cable would part mid-hoist and that fuel levels were dangerously low, the pilots realized they had to leave the scene.

But as the helicopter left, a good Samaritan fishing boat was arriving. The boat's crew retrieved the three remaining fishermen and rescue swimmer, who were later transferred to a second Coast Guard rescue helicopter. The stricken longliner's entire crew was uninjured, but the boat was lost.

Lessons learned
After interviewing the crew, Coast Guard personnel determined a mechanical shaft seal that had been leaking prior to the incident likely caused the progressive flooding.

The skipper and crew quickly assessed their situation and did everything possible to ensure their own safety. The vessel owner's records showed proper maintenance of their survival equipment and regular abandon-ship drills. However, the leaking shaft seal should have been repaired.

Persistence and teamwork can turn the tide in a bad situation. The combined efforts of the Coast Guard and fishing vessels ready to provide assistance help ensure that fishermen will continue to fish safe!

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In this episode:

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