A Coast Guard helicopter crew rescued three men from a disabled fishing vessel off the northern coast of Cayo Norte just northeast of Culebra Island, Puerto Rico Saturday Feb. 11.
Two U.S. citizens and a U.S. resident were forced to abandon the 39-foot fishing vessel Dolphin II after the vessel became disabled on two occasions near Cayo Norte during the vessel's transit from Florida to Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, according to a statement from Coast Guard Sector San Juan.
Coast Guard watchstanders received a VHF channel 16 distress communication from the Dolphin II at approximately 6:50 p.m. Friday, requesting Coast Guard assistance after the vessel reportedly became disabled due to bad fuel, approximately 2.7 nautical miles northeast of Culebra Island.
Shortly thereafter, the Dolphin II captain reported that the vessel engines were running and that no further Coast Guard assistance was required. Approximately two and a half hours later, the captain of the vessel Dolphin II reported that the vessel was once again disabled, and that they were looking to coordinate commercial towing assistance.
Around 2:28 a.m. Saturday, the captain of the Dolphin II again radioed to request rescue assistance due to flooding in the vessel bilge compartments and the bilge pumps not working. He also reported the water level had reached the batteries which forced them to shut down the electrical power onboard.
Coast Guard watchstanders directed the launch of a Coast Guard MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Borinquen to locate the fishing vessel and provide rescue assistance. Once on scene, the Coast Guard aircrew reported the vessel was anchored but listing to the right as the vessel was being affected by the heavy sea state.
The Coast Guard aircrew lowered the aircraft rescue swimmer and hoisted all three men safely aboard the aircraft, before the vessel capsized and partially sank with the bow sticking out of the water.
The survivors were transported to the Fernando Luis Ribas Dominicci Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where they were received and screened by awaiting Emergency Medical Service personnel. No medical concerns were reported.
The vessel Dolphin II remains anchored and partially submerged off the northern coast of Cayo Norte.
Coast Guard pollution responders are assessing the pollution threat from this incident, and they are working with the owner of the vessel Dolphin II to determine the plan and available courses of action to salvage the vessel and recover any remaining fuel.
The captain of the Dolphin II relayed to Coast Guard pollution investigators that the vessel fuel tanks were holding approximately 70 gallons of diesel when the vessel became disabled.
“We are all glad that the coordination between Coast Guard watch standers and our responding aircrews helped bring these mariners to safety,” said Lt. Cmdr. Alberto Martínez, Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator for this case and Sector San Juan Incident Management Division chief.
“Our priority at this time is to continue working with the owner of the Dolphin II to remove any fuel from the vessel to protect the pristine environment of these coastal waters,” said Martínez. The sinking occured a few miles from the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge and beaches that are habitat for migratory birds, sea turtles and other protected species.