4 die after fishing vessel sinks

Megan Holland
A crew member of the Alaska Ranger is taken on board the Coast Guard Cutter Munro. The Coast Guard is responding to a sinking vessel with 47 people onboard 120 miles west of Dutch Harbor. The fishing vessel Alaska Ranger, based out of Seattle, began sinking at approximately 2:50 a.m. this morning, Sunday, March 23, 2008, when it notified the Coast Guard that it had lost control of its rudder and was taking on water.

A captain and three of his crew are dead and one crew member is missing after a Seattle-based fishing boat on its way to mackerel fishing grounds sank off the Aleutian Islands early Sunday morning.

Forty-two other crew members abandoned ship and were recovered safely, said Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Eric Eggen.

The Coast Guard continued searching late into the night for the missing fisherman at the site of the wreck, 120 miles west of Dutch Harbor. Dutch Harbor is 800 miles southwest of Anchorage and about 1,700 miles northwest of Seattle.

The 200-foot Alaska Ranger, a catcher-processor vessel, was on its way to fish mackerel when it lost control of its rudder shortly before 3 a.m. Easter morning and began taking on water, the Coast Guard said.

One former captain of the doomed ship said he found the retrofitted boat unstable. "It's a very top-heavy boat. It was the most unstable boat they had," said Richard Canty, who worked for the Fishing Co. of Alaska, the owner of the vessel, for 14 years and now captains tug boats in New York.

The company disputes Canty's claims.

The Fishing Co. of Alaska identified the victims as Capt. Peter Jacobsen, chief engineer Daniel Cook, mate David Silveira and crewman Byron Carrillo. The company did not provide home towns or their states of residence.

The name of the missing man has not yet been released. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer he was the ship's fish master.

Canty said Jacobsen was from the Seattle area and Silveira had family in San Diego but had recently purchased a home in Arizona. Jacobsen had a wife and a couple of kids, he said. Silveira was not married, he said.

Canty knew both men well and hadn't yet heard the names of the dead when reached Sunday night.

"Oh no. Oh. You're not serious. Oh my gosh. This is awful," he said. "The two best guys at the company."

"I was going to call him (Silveira) to try to get the dirt," he said, when he learned of the sinking.

He called Jacobsen and Silveira longtime, competent seamen. Jacobsen was a hard worker who missed his family when out at sea. Silveira was a happy bachelor who had an outrageous sense of humor. "He laughed the loudest at my jokes," he said.

Canty wonders if the men weren't all in the engine room trying to fix the problem when tragedy struck. "How else do you end up with the most senior people all dead?" he asked.

A Coast Guard investigation is under way, Eggen said. Late Sunday, the Coast Guard was not releasing details of how or when the four died.

Mike Szymanski, spokesman for Fishing Co. of Alaska, said, "Right now, I'm still kind of semi-shocked over it."

"I keep thinking, 'God, am I going to wake from a dream?'"

The trawler, part of the "head and gut" fleet because of the limited processing it does, was a day into its two-day journey to the mackerel grounds, Szymanski said. Crew were from all over the country.

Szymanski said the boat had a good safety record and every person on board had access to a survival suit. Neither the Coast Guard nor Szymanski said they knew if crew got suits on in time, though.

Szymanski said trouble was first reported around 3 a.m. but it was several hours later that the ship was abandoned.

The crew jumped into life rafts at some point, he said.

It was unclear late Sunday how the 42 who made if off safely were rescued.

Canty said the Alaska Ranger had chronic rudder problems. He was an employee of the Fishing Company of Alaska from 1990 until 2004 and captained the Alaska Ranger for six months overlapping 1995 and 1996.

"It was a very top heavy boat... I very unpleasant boat to ride."

He explained that the boat was retro-fitted to be a processor and the design was not well thought out.

He once brought the boat back to Dutch against the wishes of the company because the rudder was jamming on him in 20 to 30-foot seas, he said. "I refused to fish."

Company spokesman Szymanski said Canty hasn't been on the boat since 1996 and says his claims are false. "The vessel has gone through extensive Coast Guard certification and testing," he said. "It's ship shape."

State environmental regulators were notified that the ship was carrying 145,000 gallons of diesel fuel when it sank into very deep waters, 6,000-feet to the ocean's bottom, said Leslie Pearson, emergency response manager for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

A Coast Guard C-130 crew reported an oil sheen that covered an area of a quarter mile by a half mile. The spillage is already dissipating with strong winds and any cleanup effort is unlikely, Pearson said.

The Fishing Company of Alaska is solely owned by Karena Adler, who started it out of Seward in 1985.

"She's absolutely devastated," Szymanski said. "She was very close to the crew."

The Seattle-based company owns five trawlers, including the Alaska Ranger, and two freezer longliners, Szymanski said.

The Alaska Ranger's sister ship, the Alaska Warrior, also a catcher-processor, was about 30 minutes away when trouble hit Sunday morning. It assisted in the rescue. No other boats were reported in the vicinity, Eggen said.

The sinking occurred in relatively calm seas for the normally cantankerous Bering Sea. The Coast Guard reported 6- to 8-foot waves and 25-knot winds at the time.

About half of the rescued are returning to Dutch Harbor and expected to arrive this morning, while the other half are on the Coast Guard cutter Munro, which is looking for the missing man, Eggen said.

Also assisting in the rescue efforts of the missing man are a Coast Guard helicopter and a C-130 plane.

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