The worst happened. Tammy Roberts got a call from a fellow fisherman’s wife that a boat out of New Bedford, Massachusetts, had gone down, and men were missing. After pacing the Coast Guard headquarters for hours without an answer, she waited days for her fear to be realized: Her husband, Mike Roberts, and crewman, Jonathan Andrew Saraiva, were trapped aboard the sunken vessel.
“My friend pretty much told me that the boat sank. I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ I couldn't even grasp it at this point. She said the boat's name, then said, ‘Tammy, it sank,’” Tammy recalled. “Honestly, at that point, I knew. I don't know how, but I just knew. My first response to her was, ‘He can't swim. And he was working on deck. I know he's gone.’”
There’s speculation that the sinking may have been caused by recent additions to the vessel that were not tested for stability.
As Partners of Commercial Fishermen, many of us think about the risk each time our fisherman leaves, but often, we don’t discuss it because it's too hard to bear.
Roberts lost her fisherman at sea six years ago, and on a recent Partners of Commercial Fisherman podcast, she shared her experience of that day, how she processes grief and finds support, and the incredible work she's doing with a non-profit she co-launched called the Seaworthy Foundation.
The Seaworthy Foundation (a.k.a. Seaworthy: The Michael Roberts/Jonathan Saraiva Foundation for Fishing Safety, Inc.) was created as an homage to their loved ones to benefit the greater good.
Tammy Roberts, Phil Saraiva, Jon’s father, and their attorney, Mike Flynn (of the firm Flynn, Wirkus, Young), put the organization’s mission in the name: Seaworthy’s goal is “to educate and work with regulators, elected officials, vessel owners, and captains to improve the lives of commercial fishermen through safety and workplace improvements.”
This non-profit charitable organization focuses on boat safety and opioid addiction (i.e., getting Narcan aboard vessels), schooling elected officials on the fishing industry to enforce safety improvements, and encouraging regulatory agencies to detect, investigate, and remedy safety deficiencies on vessels.
“One of the first things that we are trying to go after is to get the Coast Guard to get Congress to regulate the commercial fishing industry in terms of safety," Flynn said. "So we're trying to get the Coast Guard to take the mandatory minimum stability requirement regulations that apply to inspected vessels and apply them to uninspected vessels.”
Flynn recommends utilizing the free survival training program by Fishing Partnership Support Services as another preventative measure that fishermen can take advantage of. The program covers many safety measures, including MAYDAY calls, plugging leaks, swimming in survival suits, on-vessel safety drills, first aid, CPR, and more.
“I'll be honest with you. It's still a roller coaster for me,” Roberts said. “I have good days. I have not-so-good days around the time of the day that the boat sank, and it gets to be pretty hard for me.” Roberts shared that her son, also a fisherman, has a baby on the way. “The first day I heard about that, I was so excited,” Roberts said. “The next day, I lay in bed and cried all day because that was another piece of wonderful news that I couldn't share with Mike.”
Today, Roberts said she handles her emotions, as she’s done for years, but now feels the "fog" is lifting. “I feel like I'm stronger, but I have my setbacks,” Roberts said. “I work hard on myself. I work hard in my counseling. I have a great support system. I have wonderful friends. I've met great people along the way. I have great people in my life. I really do.”
Click here for an incredible and emotional interview that puts into perspective the love of a fisherman's wife and the resilience that comes from the ultimate sacrifice.