Two fishermen perished on Independence Day in the Bristol Bay region following a calamitous week for Alaska fishermen with several fatalities on the same day and two tender accidents during the week.
A Kipnuk man was pronounced dead following a boat fire in Egegik, while two others escaped with burns, Alaska State Troopers reported.
The boat fire was first seen at 3:30 a.m. on July 4 at the Alaska General Seafoods cannery dock. Emergency responders responded to the boat, the F/V Pauline II, a 32-foot gillnetter and were able to alert Joe Paul, 50, and Paul Paul, 55, of the fire. The two were reportedly burned while trying to rescue their brother, and were taken to the Egegik Clinic for treatment of burns before been flown elsewhere for treatment. Troopers said it was unclear if the brothers went to Anchorage or Seattle for treatment.
According to Beth Ipsen, spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers, a heroic effort was put forth to save the final brother as well as the surrounding vessels. Ipsen said the fire was spotted by an individual who then ran to alert the crew of the burning vessel, as well as those sleeping on vessels tied up to the burning boat that they were in danger.
“He had to run quite a distance, yelling at people to wake up,” Ipsen said, adding that since several other boats were tied up to the F/V Pauline II, the fire could have easily spread to other boats and even to the cannery, which was nearby.
First responders at the dock, including workers from Alaska General Seafoods as well as nearby fishermen, were able to put out the fire and keep flames from spreading to nearby boats, troopers reported.
A fisherman from Washington state who was also a volunteer firefighter attempted to rescue the third brother, believed to be 56-year-old Harberg Paul, five times before he pulled Paul out of the water, Ipsen said.
“He held his breath as long as he had air,” Ipsen said. “Unfortunately it was too late.”
Harberg Paul was taken to the clinic and pronounced deceased at 4:30 a.m. All three men are brothers and are from Kipnuk.
Harberg Paul’s body was sent to Anchorage for an autopsy and to confirm identification. Next of kin has been notified.
Weather did not permit Alaska State Troopers to respond to the event. A Wildlife Trooper who was in the area for commercial fisheries enforcement traveled by skiff to the village to start the investigation.
A deputy fire marshal flew from Anchorage to the village to conduct an investigation into the cause of the fire. Foul play is not suspected. The boat is considered a total loss.
Chignik Lagoon and Cook Inlet deaths
A 25-year-old Dillingham man, Joey J. Paul, died on Independence Day after falling onto the engine shaft of the fishing boat he was on near Chignik Lagoon. The accident occurred on the F/V Aleut Sisters. Ipsen said it was unclear if the young man was thrown by the boat’s movement, but the 5-foot fall onto the running engine shaft caused multiple injuries. Paul was transported to the Chignik Lagoon Clinic where he was pronounced deceased.
In the Cook Inlet, Lewis Byerly, 55, of Frederic, Wis., was crewing on the F/V Anna Lane on July 4 when the accident occurred. According to Ipsen, the crewman reportedly caught his hand in the chain that pulls up the anchor with a motorized winch. The winch pulled the rest of his body in, causing fatal injuries, Ipsen said.
Emergency responders were notified by the vessel’s skipper that he was unable to get Byerly out. Ninilchik Emergency Services responders were able to travel to the fishing vessel on a charter boat and it was determined that Byerly was dead upon their arrival. His body was extricated and transported back to Ninilchik.
The United States Coast Guard, and the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration were notified, and Byerly’s body was sent to the State Medical Examiner for autopsy. Next of kin were notified.
The F/V Anna Lane returned to its home port in Homer.
Tenders grounded, fuel spills
In addition to the lives lost last week, two fishing tenders went aground, spilling fuel in various locations in the state.
The 104-foot Naknek Spirit, which is based out of Homer, went aground in the Passage Canal east of Whittier on July 6 and had ruptured its starboard fuel tank. The tank was carrying 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel, but crewmembers were able to transfer 1,500 gallons into an intact tank, the U.S. Coast Guard reported.
Working with the Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, and Alaska Chadux, crew attempted to contain a sheen sighted in the area where the vessel grounded on Culross Island, but the sheen was deemed unrecoverable and it quickly dispersed, according to a coast guard release. The coast guard said no negative impacts to the shoreline or wildlife in the area was observed.
The Naknek Spirit was refloated on high tide and taken to Whittier, where it was moored and containment boom was placed around it as a precaution.
“We worked effectively with our partners to respond to this incident, mitigate the effects of the spill and remove the threat of pollution to the environment as quickly as possible,” said Lt. Jason Gangel, chief of response, Sector Anchorage. “We are pleased there were no injuries in this case and we will continue to investigate the circumstances that lead to the vessel’s damage and grounding.”
News was not so positive for the Lone Star, a 780-foot fishing tender that sank June 30 near Dillingham in the Igushik River. The fishery was closed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game due to pollution concerns. By then end of last weekend, divers were able to plug some of the portside vents and the ship’s doors and hatches, but were unable to get to the ship’s starboard side, as it is stuck in the mud in some 18 feet of water.
Fishermen in the region, however, were reportedly leaving the area Sunday as the main push of salmon had moved through and fishing remained closed despite the fact that the 1-mile fuel sheen seen initially was no longer visible. The vessel sank with a reported 35,000 pounds of fish, 14,000 gallons of diesel, 150 gallons of lube oil, 150 gallons of hydraulic fluid and 250 gallons of gasoline aboard. Good Samaritans safely rescued the vessel’s crew.
Ipsen said the trio of fatalities was surprising, even considering the dangers of commercial fishing.
“It’s tragic that they all happened on the same day,” she said.