Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fishing vessel meets a mysterious end in the Bering Sea—Part 1

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council magazine by Ms. Krista Reddington, Technical Writer

In late March 2001, the F/V Arctic Rose departed Dutch Harbor in Unalaska, Alaska, with a crew of 15 and made several trawls in an area of the Bering Sea known for producing small amounts of yellow fin sole.

On March 31, the vessel took on 3,591 gallons of fuel and an unknown amount of water, but did not offload cargo at the last port of call—St. Paul, Alaska. The vessel then sailed to the Zemchug Canyon Bering Sea fishing grounds to participate in the flathead sole season, which opened on April 1.

The vessel Alaskan Rose, owned and operated by the same company, was fishing within 10 to 15 miles of the Arctic Rose. The captains spoke late in the evening of April 1, when Arctic Rose’s captain expressed his irritation at the garbage that had been left in the processing space, clogging the chopper sump pump.

In a discussion of the day’s events between the Arctic Rose captain and the other vessel’s mate around 10:30 p.m., the captain did notreport any mechanical problems or other concerns, and the problems with the sump pump had been resolved. The mate later testified that he last saw the Arctic Rose on radar around 11:59 p.m.

Vessel Versus Nature
A forecast from the National Weather Service (NWS) called for a gale warning, with seas building to 16-24 feet by the morning of April 2. The NWS typically generates forecasts that are conservative in nature to compensate for the lack of data buoys and weather stations in the region. Because of the cautious nature of the forecasts, fishermen tend to discount them.

However, a “hindcast” that examined the actual weather in the vicinity of the sunken vessel, showed that a weather “triple point” occurred at the vessel’s last known position. This a frontal system where a cold, warm, and occluded front join together, and is usually associated with severe weather. It is likely that the vessel experienced these three distinct weather patterns in a short period of time.

The story continues in part 2.

PICTURED: National Weather Service surface analysis for 4 a.m. on April 2, 2001. The red star indicates the approximate position of the Arctic Rose. Graphic courtesy of the National Weather Service.

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