Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Lost at Sea—PART 1

Lost at Sea—PART 1: A small fishing trawler’s sudden sinking and loss of its young crew leave questions unanswered.

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council magazine by Ms. Daisy R. Khalifa, technical writer.

When a ship sinks far from shore and into the obscure depths of the sea in such a way that it cannot be salvaged, nor is there any trace of its ill-fated crew, the task of unraveling what might have happened to the vessel is all the more daunting and painful.

Such was the case in the Gulf of Maine when the F/V Lady Luck set out on a cold January night, in 2007Two young men manned the vessel, which had departed from Portland, Maine, and was scheduled to arrive two days later in its home port in Newburyport, Mass.

Both crewmembers separately called their fathers the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2007, to tell them that the weather was rough, but that they would be arriving home Friday. Sadly, they were never heard from again. Shortly before 11:00 p.m. that night, the vessel vanished beneath the pounding seas about 12 miles off Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

Timeline of Events
The master and deckhand had only marginal success with shrimping on their first day out in the early hours of Jan. 30, 2007. They cut their initial fishing trip short, returning late that morning to Portland Harbor to re-rig. They would set out the next day for some ground fishing in the Gulf of Maine.

By 7:00 p.m. on Jan. 31, the vessel was underway carrying an estimated 1,000 gallons of fuel and eight tons of ice aboard. Heading outbound that evening, the vessel passed the inbound F/V Jubilee and its master stated that the vessel’s port, starboard, and masthead lights were not energized. The Jubilee’s master he hailed the vessel twice by radio to alert the crew about the lights, but he did not receive a response and did not see the vessel energize its lights.

At 7:45 p.m., the master spoke with his father and said everything seemed fine, and at 9:30 p.m.—one hour before the vessel was believed to have sunk—the deckhand contacted his family, stating it was a little rough and that he would be home on Friday.

Search and Rescue
The investigation provides the vessel monitoring systems positions of the vessel from around 7 p.m. to its last known position. Four hours elapsed between the ship’s last known VMS position at 10 p.m. and the EPIRB first alert, which came at 2:01 a.m.

During the Coast Guard’s search and rescue effort, no distress calls were heard from the crew, there were no flares seen in the vicinity of the vessel, and the vessel’s life raft was never located. During the search and rescue operations, the Coast Guard located an oil slick and a small debris field.

At 9:04 a.m. on Feb. 2, a small boat from Coast Guard Cutter Seneca found the casualty vessel’s EPIRB. The EPIRB was found in the automatic position, indicating that neither the master nor deckhand manually activated it, but that it had self-deployed during the sinking. The search and rescue mission was suspended that same day.

Several weeks later, Coast Guard investigators and contractors using an ROV, found the vessel 12 miles offshore in approximately 530 feet of water..

In part II we will outline the subsequent Coast Guard investigation.

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