Alaska News

2 remain missing after boat sinks near Dutch Harbor

 
 

Update 6:15 a.m. Thursday: Neither of the two missing crew members from a 117-foot vessel that sank off Dutch Harbor late Tuesday was found Wednesday, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Operation Specialist 1st Class Trevor Frommherz, with the Coast Guard's District 17 Command Center, said that three good Samaritan vessels assisting the cutter Alex Haley with the search for crew from the Exito returned to Dutch Harbor Wednesday afternoon. Three of the Exito's five crew were rescued shortly after it sank about 14 miles northeast of Dutch Harbor.

"We had the Alex Haley stay on scene — they searched throughout the night," Frommherz said. "There was no sign of the two missing crew members."

Only the Alex Haley remains committed to the search Thursday, Frommherz said. The cutter's HH-65 Dolphin helicopter is scheduled to launch at first light, at about 10:30 a.m., and make a three-hour search flight.

Original story:

The Coast Guard continued to search the waters near Dutch Harbor Wednesday evening for two of the five crew members from a ship that sank the night before.

According to Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Meredith Manning, the Exito's owner reported at about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday that the 117-foot vessel was taking on water about 14 miles northeast of Dutch Harbor. Four good Samaritan vessels, as well as an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter dispatched from Air Station Kodiak, responded to the area.

"One of the good Samaritan vessels, the Afognak Strait, located three crew members from the Exito and took them aboard their vessel," Manning said. "The three had abandoned ship together, and the other two were preparing to abandon ship."

The Afognak Strait headed to Dutch Harbor with the rescued survivors.

The survivors initially reported that both of the missing crew members also donned survival suits, but Manning said that upon further questioning they said only one of the two had done so.

Manning said the ship had been transporting cargo for Trident Seafoods between Dutch Harbor and the Aleutian community of Akutan. Trident Seafoods could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, Manning said three fishing vessels — the Commitment, the Blue North and the Northern Lead — and the Jayhawk were continuing to search for the missing crew members, with additional air assets en route to provide support. The Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley was diverted from the Pribilof Islands and expected to arrive in the area Wednesday afternoon.

Conditions in the search area Wednesday evening including 6- to 8-foot seas and a water temperature of 42 degrees, with 20 mph winds, Manning said.

The Exito had previously made headlines: In October 2001, crewman Scott Powell was lost overboard and others were injured when a 45-foot wave hit the ship as it was crabbing, the Anchorage Daily News reported. After the Exito returned to Dutch Harbor with its catch, planning to send Powell's family his share of the profits, a poacher stole about a third of the vessel's $5-a-pound catch of king crab.

The Exito was also contracted by International Bird Rescue to help respond to the oil spill from the grounding and breakup of the cargo ship Selendang Ayu off Unalaska in late 2004.

Steve Ebbert, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge who was stationed on the Exito during the Selendang response, said that the Exito was a "buyback boat," one of about 25 vessels whose fishing licenses were bought back from their owners in 2004 for about $100 million. In exchange for the money, fronted as a loan by the federal government and repaid by other crabbers whose crab quotas rose by about 10 percent, the buyback boats were barred from use for fishing or tending.

One job the Exito could do after its license was bought back, Ebbert said, was the Selendang Ayu response.

Barbara Callahan, International Bird Rescue's Anchorage manager, said the Exito was used for about six weeks as a platform vessel to care for oiled birds and other animals.

"We put all our search and collection crew out there so they could live on the vessel," Callahan said. "Every day they would launch so they could do their collection in Makushin Bay."

Ebbert said that the Exito's crew at the time, who supported responders as they picked up birds and made shoreline surveys from smaller craft, were seasoned sailors.

"I felt very safe and very comfortable on that boat," Ebbert said. "They were good guys; they knew how to run the boat and they were safe."

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