Captain of capsized crab boat tested positive for meth

The owner-operator of the ill-fated Oregon Dungeness boat Mary B II tested positive for amphetamine, methamphetamine and alcohol, according to an accident report from the U.S. Coast Guard.
On Monday, April 13, a panel of Coast Guard investigators began a five-day hearing on the Jan. 8 bar crossing and capsize that led to the loss of the Mary B II’s entire crew — skipper Stephen Biernacki, 50, from Barnegat Township, N.J.; and crewmen Joshua Porter, 50, of Toledo, Ore., and James Lacey, 48, from South Toms River, N.J.
Biernacki registered 0.17 mg per liter of amphetamine and 0.50 mg per liter of meth, according to post mortem toxicology results. His blood alcohol content was 0.033 g/dL.
Porter, who had been an advocate for sober living, had no drugs or alcohol in his system and reportedly was making his last trip on the Mary B II. Lacey tested positive for cannabinoids, but the amount was not registered in the report.
Biernacki had fished in his home state of New Jersey, but was new to Dungeness fishing, Newport, and the bar crossing at Yaquina Bay.
Mary B II

Mary B II at the docks. Stephen Biernacki, of Barnegat Township, N.J., reportedly bought the boat in the fall and died onboard while crossing the bar in Oregon’s Yaquina Bay. Facebook photo

The Coast Guard said the Mary B II faced waves of 14 to 16 feet, with some breakers as tall as 20 feet, as the crew tried to return to the bay. The Coast Guard was out in the storm to assist the fleet. Just before 10 p.m., the Coast Guard crew saw the Mary B II approaching the bar and was trying to guide the crew in with illumination flares.

A wave swamped the crab-loaded boat and snapped it in two, shearing it at the waterline.
Clint Funderburg, the former owner of the 42-foot boat, testified that Biernacki didn’t seem to “understand the local bars and crossing.”
“He wasn’t that interested in talking about it,” Funderburg said. “He basically keeps telling me he knows what he’s doing, he’s very experienced.”
Funderburg said the boat, then named the Bess Chet, was built in 1957 and dependably seaworthy.
“It was very stable with a long history of crab fishing and going across the bar,” Funderburg said. “I always felt very secure operating the vessel.”
Marine surveyor Robert Schones reported that he had seen no red flags in his inspection of the accident debris, but noted that the weather conditions made crossing the bar treacherous even for a seaworthy vessel of that size.
“Those are the kind of conditions you only want to approach at high water and during daylight hours,” Schones said.

About the author

Jessica Hathaway

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 13 years, serves on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s Communications Committee and is a National Fisheries Conservation Center board member.

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