The Coast Guard wants to know why a siren that could “wake the dead” failed to go off as water flooded the engine room of the factory trawler last summer.
When water first began flooding into the Alaska Juris on July 26, a network of bilge alarms should have unleashed a cacophony of sound to alert the crew that something was wrong.
“The siren can wake the dead. Anywhere on the vessel you can hear the alarm,” said Ben Eche, an electrician who did shore-side work on that alert system, in testimony Tuesday during Coast Guard hearings in Seattle into the sinking of the vessel. All 46 crew members survived.
But crew testified the alarm did not go off, a troubling development that prompted Coast Guard officials to question Eche about how the system operated.
Eche said he had tested the alarm system while the Alaska Juris was in port, and it worked properly.
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“I can’t explain why they didn’t hear anything,” Eche testified.
The bilge alarms are an important part of the safety system for factory trawlers such as the Juris, which netted, processed and froze fish in long fishing forays in waters off the Aleutian Islands.
Eche speculated, in his testimony, that it may have malfunctioned because someone deliberatively disabled the system. That might have happened because someone didn’t want to be bothered to respond to the alarm if small amounts of water frequently entered the bilge. But Eche didn’t venture to state a possible motive.
Word-of-mouth ended up serving as the alarm once the engine room flooded, and everyone was able to assemble on deck, don survival suits, evacuate into life rafts and make it safely to shore.
Coast Guard investigators are trying to determine, during two weeks of hearings that began Monday, what caused the seawater to rush into this below deck area.
On Tuesday, an Alaska-based welder testified about repairs to the Juris, an aging vessel built in the 1970s that had a patchwork network of below-deck piping. Some of it was thin-walled pipe from Japan, according to the testimony.
Though some had been replaced, Ian Bagley, of Alpha Welding, confirmed in testimony that the vessel’s chief engineer had put in a request for a major overhaul of the piping system.
Bagley said he felt it was safe to go out on. But he described the boat as pretty average, “probably a bit dirtier but there are a lot of old factory trawlers out there.”