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4 rescued from boat sinking in Prince William Sound

Elizabeth Bluemink

Three men and a 12-year-old boy were rescued Saturday night from their foundering commercial fishing boat in Prince William Sound after losing the battle to keep it afloat.

The Nahanni, a 42-foot commercial purse seiner based in Juneau, grounded on a reef shortly before 10 p.m. and sank after taking on water one mile south of the village of Chenega Bay on Evans Island, the Coast Guard reported.

On Sunday, the owner of the Nahanni, Ryan Rogers, of Eugene, Ore., and his crew -- his 12-year-old son, 19-year-old nephew and a longtime skiffman -- were bunking at the salmon hatchery on Evans Island, waiting for the arrival of a salvage crew and Coast Guard responders.

All four were unharmed, but the three-hour attempt to keep the boat from sinking was "one of the more traumatic experiences of my life," Rogers said. It also was "pretty hair-raising" for his son, who was taken off the boat before the other men abandoned it, he said.

"It was a really tough battle to lose," Rogers said. But the reef had ripped at least one big hole in the Nahanni's bottom, and despite help from the good Samaritans who lent additional pumps, Rogers and his crew could not pump the water out fast enough to prevent the boat from sinking, leaving only its stern exposed, he said.

The Nahanni's bow was still stuck fast on the reef on Sunday afternoon, Rogers said.

SWIFT CURRENT

Rogers said the grounding happened when he was going through a narrow passage south of Chenega Bay after delivering a load of fish to an Ocean Beauty tender. While he and the crew headed out in preparation for another fishing day Sunday, a swift current swung his boat up on steep rock, he said.

When Rogers put out a distress call, his tender, headed for Cordova, swung around to help, as did an Icicle Seafoods tender and another fishing boat captained by one of his friends. They and some workers from the Armin F. Koernig Salmon Hatchery helped try to prevent the Nahanni from sinking, and they salvaged the crew's belongings, including the boat's large purse seine net.

"I was lucky to have so much support," Rogers said.

The Nahanni will likely be righted and then hauled to Seward for salvaging, Rogers said.

BEST JOB IN THE WORLD

Rogers has fished Prince William Sound since he was 23 and won't give it up until he's too old to fish, he said. It's been a tough fishing season -- a salmon run near Valdez failed and this accident was terrible -- but the job remains one of the best in the world, he said.

He plans to purchase a seiner similar to the Nahanni in time for next year's season.

The crew of the good Samaritan fishing boat, the Sea Warrior, rescued the four on the boat and brought them to Chenega Bay, said Coast Guard spokeswoman Sara Francis.

A Coast Guard overflight today detected a slight oily sheen on the water where it sank, Francis said.

Rogers said he is optimistic that the boat's 300 gallons of diesel will not empty into the sound because he was able to seal off vents to the boat's fuel tank before it sank. The hatchery provided some oil containment boom.

Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at adn.com/contact/ebluemink or call 257-4317.


By ELIZABETH BLUEMINK
ebluemink@adn.com