A procession and prayer ceremony at Bell Street Pier in Seattle was held to remember all casualties at sea over the past year.

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Tony Tolbert experienced loss firsthand while working on a fishing boat in the middle of the Bering Sea.

As Tolbert and other crew members slept, a young deckhand pulling up fishing nets in the middle of the night got his clothes caught in equipment and fell overboard to his death.

So when a memorial wreath was cast into Elliott Bay during a ceremony Sunday to remember all casualties of the sea over the past year, the moment had special significance.

“I could be one who is dead,” said Tolbert, 59, of Seattle. “It could be me.”

Eighteen people participated in the memorial walk that began at the Catholic Seamen’s Club in Belltown and proceeded to the Bell Street Pier. United Port Ministries, a joint endeavor of the Catholic, Lutheran and Episcopal churches, has organized the three-block procession and prayer service for the past three years.

“The focus is on all who work in the maritime industry, including fishermen,” said the Rev. Tony Haycock, chaplain and director of the Catholic Seamen’s Club.

At the pier, Ron Hinrichs, who captained the Victoria Clipper ferry this past summer, rang a bell as each grouping of maritime casualties was read, including those who died on cargo ships, passenger ferries, tugs and tankers.

“I’ve lost a lot of close friends to the sea,” said Hinrichs, who worked 18 years on a Coast Guard rescue boat.

During the reading, specific mention was given to those who perished this year as a result of the sinkings of two Seattle-based fishing vessels — five on the Alaska Ranger on March 23 and seven on the Katmai two weeks ago.

The loss of Edmar Balasabas, 35, also was mentioned. A sailor from the Philippines, he died of leukemia, a disease he didn’t realize he had, aboard a container ship passing through Cape Flattery. He leaves a wife and three children.

Haycock concluded the ceremony by leading the participants in song:

But to every sailor, comes time to drop anchor

Haul in the sails, and make the lines fast

You deep-water dreamer, your journey is over

You’re safe in the harbor at last

You’re safe in the harbor at last.

Like Tolbert, 44-year-old Keith Breaux has a personal and poignant understanding of the dangers of the maritime professions. A longshoreman who recently relocated to Seattle, he witnessed a dockworker in New Orleans killed by a steel beam after the chain holding it snapped.

“A man dies doing what he loves to do, but I think about the scars his death leaves on his family,” Breaux said.

The ceremony at the pier took place with a docked 720-foot container ship, Matson Navigation’s SS Kauai, as a backdrop.

“I’ve been in the Bering Sea before where the waves were strong enough to rock a ship that large,” Tolbert said. “It can happen to any boat. That’s Mother Nature. You can’t beat Mother Nature.”

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or seskenazi@seattletimes.com