In the start of a Coast Guard hearing on the sinking of the Washington-based trawler, a crewman talks about the moments after abandoning ship in July.
The evacuation and rescue of the crew of 46 from the sinking Alaska Juris was accomplished without any deaths or serious injuries. But crewman Aaron Hell experienced tense moments as he briefly fell into the chill Bering Sea while trying to climb down a ladder along the side of the sinking vessel and board a life raft.
“I dropped into the water and got picked up pretty quickly,” testified Hell in the first day of a two-week Coast Guard hearing in Seattle. The hearing is to investigate the causes of the July 26 flooding of the Washington-based factory trawler that took on water and sank off the Aleutian Islands.
Investigators will make recommendations on how such mishaps can be prevented in the future. They also are empowered to cite any “commendable actions” they uncover, as well as cite any misconduct or violations of the law by the crew or the vessel’s owner, Renton-based Fishing Company of Alaska.
During afternoon testimony, Hell described a multinational crew aboard the Alaska Juris that included Japanese, Mexicans and recruits from African nations. He said they all had to find a way to work together to enable operation of the Alaska Juris, an aging vessel built in the 1970s that motors off to remote locations to catch, process and freeze fish.
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For Hell and others, the shifts were 12 hours on, six hours off, then 12 hours on again, for days on end.
Hell, a shift leader, said that on the day of the emergency he learned of the flooding around 11 a.m. as he supervised fish processing below deck. First, the flow of water used to clean the fish shut off, and then within seconds the lights went out.
Hell was part of a team charged with setting up a dewatering pump. But, as soon as they got the pump up and running, he said they were ordered to shut it down and report to a muster station, don survival suits and abandon ship.
“I felt like we could have done more to dewater and isolate the situation,” Hell testified.
Also on Monday, investigators heard testimony from Chris Woodley, a former Coast Guard officer who helped set up an alternative-compliance program for vessels such as the Alaska Juris that catch and process fish.
Woodley, who now works in the fishing industry, said the program involves a “huge workload” and needs an experienced inspector to handle detailed oversight of these vessels that must be examined out of the water — twice every five years.