Five crew members are missing and two were rescued from a crab boat that capsized and sank New Year’s Eve in the Gulf of Alaska during a storm that brought strong winds and rough seas, according to the Coast Guard.
The 130-foot Scandies Rose sent out a Mayday call around 10 p.m. Tuesday, triggering a Coast Guard aviation search-and-rescue operation in a storm that was forecast by the National Weather Service to include heavy freezing spray. A Jayhawk helicopter hoisted two of the crew from a life raft around 2 a.m. Wednesday.
The Coast Guard announced that at 6:08 p.m. Wednesday — after “careful consideration of survival probability” — it had suspended the search for the five others, explaining the effort spanned 20 hours and 1,400 square miles. Four helicopter crews, two airplane crews and a Coast Guard cutter diverted to the area from the Bering Sea failed to find the five.
“The decision to suspend an active search and rescue case is never easy, and it’s only made after careful consideration of a myriad of factors,” said Rear Adm. Matthew Bell, 17th District commander, in a statement. “Our deepest condolences to the friends and families impacted by this tragedy.”
The vessel was en route from Kodiak with a load of pots to start a winter season based in the Bering Sea, said Dan Mattsen, a partner in the boat that is managed by Seattle-based Mattsen Management but based out of Dutch Harbor, a port in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.
The Scandies Rose was part of a fleet based largely in Washington and Alaska that uses baited pots to trap king crab in the fall, and in the winter, fish for cod and snow crab.
The Coast Guard did not release crew-member names Wednesday.
On Thursday, Deanna Cobban, of Kodiak, said that her older brother, Gary Cobban Jr, and his son, David Cobban were among the missing. She described her brother as a third generation crabber who was part owner of the boat. Both father and son are residents off Kodiak, she said.
The Coast Guard on Thursday afternoon released the names of the other crew members. The three others missing are Arthur Ganacias, Brock Rainey and Seth Rousseau-Gano.
The two who survived are Dean Gribble Jr. and John Lawler.
Others in the industry said the crew had long experience.
“The Scandies is a 130-foot battle ax, and always has been well respected,” said Dylan Hatfield, a Petersburg-based crabber who said he used to work with two of the crew.
Gordon Kristjanson, a retired Washington-based crab boat captain, described the skipper as a good fisherman and an industry fixture.
The Scandies Rose went down about 5 miles southeast of Sutwik Island, off the Alaska Peninsula in the southwest part of the state.
The crew faced tough conditions Tuesday night. A weather-service marine forecast called for gale-force winds, seas up to 21 feet and alerted mariners to heavy freezing spray, which can form ice on a boat and if not knocked off, reduce stability.
“It was pretty harsh conditions out there,” said Louise Fode, a meteorologist based in Anchorage.
The two crew who were rescued were wearing survival suits that help protect against the cold water. They were taken to a hospital in Kodiak where they were in stable condition Wednesday night, according to the Coast Guard.
Alaska crabbers’ work involves heavy gear in big seas. Crewmen risk getting injured on deck or being swept overboard, and boats can sink in rough seas.
Their death toll in the 1990s, when more than 70 crew perished, gave momentum to reforms that included — beginning in the fall of 1999 — dockside safety checks by the Coast Guard to look for overloading.
Chris Woodley, a former Coast Guard safety official who now is executive director of the Groundfish Forum trade group, inspected the Scandies Rose in the early 2000s and said he considered it to be well maintained and “one of the more bulletproof boats.”
Another safety improvement came in 2005, when a change in the management system vested boat owners with guaranteed crab-harvest shares so they no longer had to compete against one another through bad weather, although that share system has yet to be extended to the fleet’s winter fishery for cod.
After the crab-harvest system took hold, the Bering Sea crab fleet shrank from more than 250 boats to fewer than 70. Only one person died in an 11-year span. Then, on Feb. 11, 2017, the fleet was rocked by tragedy, when the Destination, a heavily loaded Seattle-based crabber, sank in the Bering Sea under harsh freezing-spray conditions. No Mayday call occurred with that sinking, which killed all six crew.
Hatfield had earlier worked on the Destination and when the boat went down, lost his brother, a close friend and a skipper who had served as his mentor.
Hatfield said Wednesday that he and other families of those lost in the Destination have been stunned to begin the new year with the sinking of another crab boat.
“I have been talking with them, and they all want to say (to families of the Scandies Rose), that we are here for you.”