National Fisherman

Paradise lost

From U.S. Coast Guard reports

Every year several million visitors come to Hawaii for coconut palm-lined beaches, sun and fresh local seafood. The island state's commercial fishing industry hauls in more than $70 million in annual revenue.

On the last day of October, a 69-foot, steel longliner loaded with fuel, ice, fresh bait and an eager crew of six, left Hilo to fill its holds with mahi-mahi and ahi tuna on a 12-day trip.

On the second day out, the skipper noticed the steering was somewhat sluggish. He ordered one of his crewmen, who doubled as the engineer, to go below and inspect the steering gear. The engineer reported a small leak in one of the lines leading to the hydraulic ram that controlled the rudder. The problem was addressed, and the engineer was instructed to check the steering and hydraulic fluid levels during his rounds of the mechanical systems, routinely adding fluid.

Ten days into the trip and with more than 3,000 pounds of fish onboard, the hold was full. The skipper decided to steam back to off-load and look into permanent repairs for the hydraulic leak.

At approximately 4 a.m. the next day, they were nearing port. While the crew was asleep, the skipper noticed the steering problem had returned. He had the steering on autopilot when an alarm filled the pilothouse. Being so close to port and not wanting to disturb the tired crew he decided to try to handle the situation himself. The skipper quickly switched to manual steering mode to attempt to regain control of the vessel.

Being only a half-mile from the jagged, rocky coastline, the skipper knew there was no time to waste. He went below, where he discovered the once-leaking hydraulic line now spraying fluid. He made a beeline for the pilothouse to secure the engine to prevent a fire.

As the skipper stood at the helm peering through the darkness of the night he could see the white froth of the waves crashing on the shoreline nearby. Suddenly the longliner shuttered as the steel hull grounded on a large rock outcropping. The skipper roused the crew and instructed them to don life jackets and head topside. The skipper radioed a mayday over the VHF, then ordered his deck boss to grab the EPIRB and activate it manually.

Just half an hour after the alarm had sounded, the skipper and crew were forced to abandon ship when a large wave hit and rolled the longliner. The skipper and four crew members were able to swim to shore. One crew member was taken out to sea in a rip current.

At about 5 a.m., a fire department rescue helicopter lifted the crew one by one from their perches on the rocky cliff. The skipper informed the aircrew of the missing crewman. Minutes later, he was spotted floating several hundred yards from the boat. With the assistance of a rescue swimmer, the crewman was brought up in a rescue basket. The helicopter delivered the crew to a hospital, where they were treated for cuts and abrasions.

Lessons learned
Although the foundered boat was lost, the outcome could have been far worse. Luckily, the skipper and crew had the presence of mind to use the safety equipment they carried onboard to ensure their survival and buy them time while awaiting rescue.

Even in paradise, tragedy can strike swiftly and all can be lost.

Prior to abandoning ship, the skipper made sure all of his crew were accounted for and were wearing their personal flotation devices properly.

For a copy of "Federal Requirements for Commercial Fishing Industry Vessels," visit www.fishsafe.info.

This article is based on U.S. Coast Guard reporting and is intended to bring safety issues to the attention of our readers. It is not intended to judge or reach conclusions regarding the ability or capacity of any person, living or dead, or any boat or piece of equipment.

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