Investigators may never know exactly what motivated Gary Cobban Jr. to drive the Scandies Rose into a storm just before New Year’s Day 2020. In all likelihood, a combination of factors informed his decision. As he captained the boat with his son David onboard, it’s hard to imagine the elder Cobban was inclined to take unnecessary risks — though anyone who plies those waters understands the inherent danger of the Bering Sea.
Based on the testimony at the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation, held in the late winter this year, it’s likely he believed he was driving a fortress of a vessel, loaded within her carrying capacity.
Following the Bering Sea crabber Destination sinking in 2017, which had no survivors, broad speculation was that the vessel was likely overloaded with pots and laden with ice, both common occurrences at the start of the opilio crab season in some of the worst winter weather the North Pacific has to offer. The loss of a well-maintained and well-run boat with an experienced crew was so shocking that it led to a run of new stability assessments across the fleet.
Now with the Scandies Rose hearings, we have learned that those assessments may be inherently flawed. The fact that IMO standards do not account for icing inside of pots strapped to the decks of Bering Sea boats as they drive through freezing spray is frankly shocking. (Read our full feature on the hearings.)
One thing that stuck with me as I watched survivor Jon Lawler’s testimony was how critical his muscle memory was to his survival. Everything Lawler did was the next right thing to do. Though it seemed clear that his memories were forged from the shock of the loss of his friends on the Destination, drills conducted properly can do the same.
NF’s next Expo Online webinar will focus on industry safety with an expert panel. I hope you will join us for this free live discussion on April 8. Go to our home page and click on Webinars in the top nav to sign up. You’ll get access as well as a link to the recording after the live panel.
My heart goes out to the families of those who did not make it out, and also to Lawler and Gribble. Your testimony, though clearly painful to relive, may well save lives in the future. Thank you both, and to everyone who testified, for telling your stories.