In the search for a Seattle-based fishing boat with six crew members aboard, the Coast Guard found debris and life buoys Saturday morning.
The U.S. Coast Guard continues to search for a Seattle-based crab boat with six crew members aboard that apparently sank in rough seas about two miles northwest of St. George Island, Alaska.
The 98-foot crab boat sent out an emergency beacon Saturday morning from an area where 30 mph winds, below-freezing temperatures and snow had whipped up 5- to 8-foot seas.
“Prayers are needed for our brothers on the F/V Destination and their families,” wrote Capt. Casey McManus, skipper of the crabber F/V Cornelia Marie, in a Saturday Facebook post that noted that winds had come down but the temperatures were a chill 20 degrees.
Late Sunday, the Coast Guard reported that weather at the scene of the search involved 25 mph winds and 2 to 4-foot seas. The air temperature was 21 degrees and the water temperature 38 degrees. The searchers were reporting light snow.
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McManus noted that the F/V Destination “was a very sturdy platform that was maintained at the highest levels.”
The 368-foot, high-endurance Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau joined the search Sunday in the Bering Sea, after the Destination’s EPIRP — Emergency Position Indicating Radiobeacon — was recovered Saturday morning. The device is usually located near the wheelhouse and is designed to float away and send an emergency signal to an overhead satellite.
Searchers also located a debris field containing buoys, the Destination’s life ring and an oil sheen.
“We are continuing to search the area,” said Chief Petty Officer Shawn Eggert of Coast Guard District 17 in Juneau.
The F/V Destination is based in Seattle and two Seattle residents are listed among its ownership group. The Coast Guard said the boat operates out of Sand Point, Alaska.
Brent Paine, executive director of the Seattle-based United Catcher Boats, told The Seattle Times that there are two vessels that fish off Alaska called the F/V Destination. One of them is a trawler that belongs to his association and is not the one that went missing. Paine said the other vessel — the target of the Coast Guard search — is a smaller vessel that has harvested crab.
A Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules airplane crew and two MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews arrived on the scene about 10:30 a.m. They were joined by two good Samaritan fishing vessels as well as residents of St. George who searched the shoreline for any signs of the crew or vessel, Coast Guard officials said.
The Morganthau also deployed its MH-65 Dolphin helicopter in the search, the Coast Guard reported.
The F/V Destination is part of the Bering Sea fleet — much of it based in Washington — that pursues king and snow crab with baited steel traps known as pots that are set along the bottom. The harvests unfold across a turbulent swath of ocean that can generate fierce storms as well as freezing spray that can coat vessels with ice and reduce their stability.
The Bering crabbers have gained fame through the long-running “Deadliest Catch” reality-television show that often features harrowing scenes from the harvest grounds But the fleet’s safety record has improved dramatically from decades past when crews competed in derby-style harvests where they rushed to claim as much crab as possible before an overall quota was reached.
During the 1990s, 73 crew died in the Bering Sea crab harvests, which was ranked the most hazardous commercial fishery in the United States, according to research by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Crews in that era carried as many pots as possible to quickly trap the crab, and vessel overloading was a significant cause of disaster, according to federal research by the institute.
But the fishery underwent a major change in 2005 as the derbies were replaced with a new system that divided up the harvests among crab-boat owners’ quotas between vessels. The fleet size shrank, and the crews who continued to crab work through longer seasons in which they are not in competition with one another. Safety also was improved by a Coast Guard compliance programs to check vessels to ensure they were properly loaded.
A NIOSH study that tracked carb harvests from 2005 through 2013 found that 65 injuries were reported through those years. But only one was fatal; it occurred in 2009 when a crew member was pulled overboard by a line that tightened around his lower leg.