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Northeast Fisheries Observers: Close Calls at Sea

Coast Guard aids New Bedford fishing boat

By BRIAN BOYD, SouthCoastToday.com
December 12, 2007 11:04 AM

Chelsey Cronan
NEFOP Observer Chelsey Cronan

The Coast Guard responded this morning to a New Bedford fishing boat that was taking on water 35 miles east of Chatham.

The Tropico, an 81-foot commercial fishing boat with a crew of six, was able to remove the water with the Coast Guard’s help and was returning to New Bedford on its own power with a Coast Guard escort, said Petty Officer Luke Pinneo, a Coast Guard spokesman.

The boat’s crew radioed the Coast Guard at 5:40 a.m. Their pumps had failed after initial success in removing the water. They put on their survival suits and were prepared to activate the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) if needed, Petty Officer Pinneo said.

They never lost communication and did not turn on the beacon, he said.

The Coast Guard launched a helicopter from the Cape Cod Air Station and a 32-foot boat from Station Chatham. They were able to transfer two pumps onto the distressed boat and successfully remove the water.

The water had been contained to the aft-most, sealed space, Petty Officer Pinneo said.

Vessel Sinks with Observer Onboard

September 28, 2007


NEFOP Observer Meghan Miner

On September the 28, 2007, at approximately 1700, the New Bedford based Scallop F/V Jacob Allen starting taking on water and the crew was unable to control the flooding. Northeast Fisheries Observer Program (NEFOP) Observer Meghan Minor was onboard the vessel at the time of the incident.

Meghan activated her Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) and the Captain activated the vessel’s EPIRB and made several MAYDAY calls. At approximately 1900 all crew members, including Meghan, entered the vessel’s life raft that had been deployed and was tied alongside. Within an hour, the F/V Sancor, responding to the MAYDAY and an alert sent out by the USCG, came alongside the life raft and brought everyone onboard. The F/V Sancor then steamed in to New Bedford with the rescued crew and observer. They arrived in New Bedford around 0540 with the tired, but uninjured, crew and observer. The vessel was met by USCG, NMFS, and AIS staff. After a brief interview by the USCG all were released to go home and get some much needed rest.

Meghan and the crew did everything exactly as it should have been done. Meghan’s PLB worked perfectly and a signal with her position and her unique identification was received by the USCG within minutes. The USCG deployed a Falcon jet, helicopter and cutter to the scene and sent out an alert to all vessels in the vicinity. Meghan said that the Captain and crew knew exactly what to do and reacted in a calm, organized manner. As it turns out the vessel had conducted abandon ship drills, with Meghan, the day before.

This incident had a favorable ending because the observer and crew where trained, prepared and reacted appropriately. We are proud of Meghan’s performance in remaining composed and following her training. The importance of being prepared can not be over emphasized.

David C. Potter, Branch Chief
Northeast Fisheries Observer Program

Meghan Miner's Narrative of The F/V Jacob Allen Sinking

crew
Crew of the F/V Jacob Allen with New Bedford's Mayor Scott Lang. Photo: AVA, NEFOP

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I set off on the F/V Jacob Allen for an industry funded scallop trip in an open area, around 1:40pm on Friday the 21st of September, 2007. Sometime on Wednesday morning, when I woke for my shift, I was hearing reports on the radio that the Coast Guard had found a body floating in the water, with dark pants, face down. I asked the first mate, who was on the previous watch, as to what was going on, and he told me that from what he could tell, a boat had gone down the day before, and they were just finding the bodies now- none had worn survival suits. It sounded like there were four people involved, three dead, and one unconscious who was not expected to live much longer. The captain, also disturbed by these reports, ordered us the next day to do a safety drill. We went out on deck in fairly rough seas (5 ft waves), and put our survival suits on. Everyone on board did this drill except for the captain himself. The following night, Friday the 28th of September, around 4:45pm, after our 7th day of fishing and 8th day at sea, I was awoken by the Captain, Tony, saying that there was “a situation” on deck, and he needed me out there “now”. At first, I thought that this was a joke, and I sorely underestimated the severity of the situation, I groggily headed toward the bathroom to get ready for my shift.

I could hear the guys screaming my name so I came right out and into the chaos in the galley. I saw crewmembers bringing electronics down from the wheelhouse and into the galley where they were wrapping them in black garbage bags. I grabbed a few things from my bunk, including my deck notebook, my iPod and my glasses and went out on deck, as I was instructed. On the way to the deck area, you pass by the door to the wheelhouse and the area where the survival suits are kept in a door-less closet. I looked down into the engine room and saw water sloshing around on the engine room floor and coming up the steps. This is when I knew something was really wrong. Some of the crew were already struggling to put their survival suits on. I reminded them to grab layers and put them on under their survival suit in case this were to be a long ordeal.

New Bedford certificate

The captain was up in the wheelhouse sending mayday calls. He also deployed the life raft. I am uncertain as to who deployed the boat’s EPIRB. Once we were instructed to abandon ship into the life raft, I set off my own PLB. Everyone jumped from the boat into the life raft without touching the water. The mood was very calm and collected. Everyone had a good sense of humor about the situation, and were making jokes as everything was happening. The captain was the last one into the raft. Some of the crew had brought along spare gallon jugs of water, and I suggested that everyone take some to treat shock, as we learned in the survival training class, but I was the only one who did. We remained floating in the raft, with the painter attached to the sinking vessel for what I think was probably about a half hour. The captain had an EPIRB with him on the life raft, whether this EPIRB was from the life raft or the boat, I am uncertain. He attached it to the plastic string from the life raft and had it floating in the water alongside the plastic boat. I had brought in my plastic bag with me, a VHF radio given to me by the captain for safekeeping. The radio worked occasionally and we could hear voices cutting in and out. By this time, the electricity on the boat had gone out, but since we were still attached to the boat by the painter, we could hear the Jacob Allen’s radio (which must have been operating on a backup battery) from the life raft. We searched around in the bags within the life raft and found some flares. The captain shot off two flares, before we saw a plane overhead. We could hear the pilot of the plane over the radio in the Jacob Allen saying that he had made a low pass, but did not see anything. At this point, the captain let the line free from the boat, as he was worried about how much longer the boat would stay afloat. We sent up another flare when we could hear a plane again. This time we heard radio confirmation of the sighting of our flare. What was approximately an hour to an hour and a half after we abandoned ship, the F/V Sancor came into view through the fog blaring its horn. We were hoisted onto the portside of the boat by crewmembers of the Sancor who also helped us to get the life raft aboard. We waited on the Sancor for several minutes, watching the Jacob Allen to see if it would sink. Although it was riding low in the water, very wobbly, and without electricity, we never saw the boat sink. The coast guard issued navigational warnings concerning the boat at least until we reached the dock sometime between 05:00 and 05:30 on Saturday morning the 29th . A member of the US coast guard boarded the Sancor and interviewed the crew, collected identification, and then released us all.

Crew aboard sinking vessel draw upon survival skills

By BECKY W. EVANS, Standard-Times staff writer
October 03, 2007 6:00 AM

NEW BEDFORD — Fishing vessel safety training helped save the lives of five fishermen and a fishing observer who skillfully donned survival suits and leapt into a life raft when their scalloper began sinking off Nantucket, safety trainers said Tuesday.

The entire crew survived the incident without injuries. A day before the sinking, they had practiced an abandon-ship drill.

"They did exactly what they were supposed to do," said Ted Williams, a licensed drill instructor who teaches commercial fishermen safety skills during free workshops held in this city.

life raft
Recovered life raft from the sunken F/V Jacob Allen on the stern of the F/V Sancor after rescue. Photo: GS, AIS

The 70-foot city fishing vessel Jacob Alan was about 40 miles southeast of Nantucket when it began taking on water around 6 p.m. Friday, according to the Coast Guard. Before abandoning ship, the crew made a triple mayday call and activated its Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon, which sends a radio signal to a satellite to pinpoint the sender's Global Positioning System location.

Coast Guard First District Command Center in Boston instantaneously received the emergency signal as well as a second signal sent from the observer's personal EPIRB, according to the release. The command center then sent a radio broadcast alerting nearby vessels to assist the Jacob Alan's crew.

The New Bedford fishing vessel Sancor interrupted its groundfishing trip to rescue the crew from the lifeboat. The dragger, which is owned by Carlos Rafael, returned the survivors to New Bedford at about 6 a.m. Saturday. A week ago, the Sancor broke off another fishing trip to assist the fishing vessel Santa Barbara, Mr. Rafael said.

The Jacob Alan's crew included Capt. Antonio Vieira of New Bedford, Joao Simoes of New Bedford, Jose Bolarinho of East Providence, R.I., Justin Souza of New Bedford and Jose Medeiros of New Bedford. Meghan Miner of Cranston, R.I., was onboard the vessel to monitor its catch for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service. She is employed by AIS Inc., a New Bedford contractor that provides observer coverage from North Carolina to Maine.

Both Capt. Vieira and Mr. Medeiros had completed a city fishing safety training course in October 2005, said Ed Dennehy of New Directions, which helps organize the workshops.

The skills they learned during the course, which covers everything from firefighting to flare shooting to deploying life rafts, helped save their lives, said Mr. Williams, who works at IMP Fishing Gear and sold the Jacob Alan its life raft.

"The reason for this positive outcome was that both the fishermen and the observer were prepared," said Mike Tork, a fisheries biologist with NOAA Fisheries' Northeast Observer Program. Mr. Tork helps organize safety training for observers.

Ms. Miner, who joined the program in April, was required to take a three-week course that included two full days of fishing safety training, Mr. Tork said. The training included lessons in how to activate personal EPIRBs, which are attached to the observers' survival suits, he said.

"She knew how to do that," he said. "It worked exactly the way we hoped it would work. The signal was picked up in minutes."

The day before the Jacob Alan sank, the crew had practiced an abandon-ship drill, Mr. Williams said. Such drills are required under Coast Guard regulations, he said.

Coast Guard officials believe the Jacob Alan is sunk off Nantucket in 180 feet of water, said Lt. Phil Wolf, a senior investigating officer with Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England.

Vessel owner Mark Freedman of Plymouth has hired a salvage company to recover the vessel, said Lt. Wolf, who is investigating the cause of the sinking.

Mr. Freedman declined to comment on the incident.

The Massachusetts Fishermen's Partnership will sponsor a fishing safety training workshop from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19, at the UMass School for Marine Science and Technology.

Officials Hail Satellite Rescue System

By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, Associated Press
October 19, 2007

WASHINGTON (AP) — At first Megan Minor thought the warnings her ship was sinking were just another drill, until she looked toward the engine room and saw water coming up the stairs.

Thanks to rapid response based on satellite signals, she and the crew of the Jacob Alan were quickly rescued, she said Friday at a ceremony marking the anniversary of the Search-and-Rescue satellite system.

When Minor was plucked from the Atlantic Ocean off Massachusetts on Sept. 28, she became one of more than 22,000 individuals worldwide who have been rescued in the 25 years the COSPAS-SARSAT system has been operating.

"The program grew out of tragedy," explained Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that operates the satellites.

SARSAT was organized after a plane carrying two members of Congress disappeared in Alaska. It has never been found.

Today, most planes and ships carry locator beacons that can send a request for help via weather satellites. Canada, France and Russia joined the United States to make the system worldwide in 1982. COSPAS is the acronym for the Russian search-and-rescue satellites.

Of the 22,000 people rescued around the world, nearly 6,000 were in the United States and its waters, Lautenbacher said.

"Satellites are not only used for weather imagery, they have other functions and this is one of them," he said at a briefing.

NOAA runs the satellites and works with the Coast Guard and Air Force which conduct the rescue missions.

"It is indeed a team effort," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Marke F. Gibson. "Time is critical in search and rescue, especially when injury is involved."

Added Coast Guard Rear Adm. Wayne E. Justice, in many cases the satellite signal is the only means of locating the lost or injured people.

For her part, Minor was glad to be at the briefing.

She works for NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, collecting data on the catch, gear and other economic information.

The vessel had held an abandon ship exercise just the day before it sank, she noted, so everyone had practiced what to do. Such exercises are too rare on vessels, she added.

Safety Training Saved Crew and NOAA Fisheries Observer

By MEGHAN MINER, NOAA Fisheries Observer
Edited By ANN BACKUS, MS, Fishermen's Voice
November 2007

This column was named ?Voice of Safety? because we wanted to be able to present different voices on the topic of fishing safety. In the past topics have ranged from safety equipment to a a lobsterman's struggle for survival after being dragged overboard. This month a NOAA fisheries observer gives her account of being on board a sinking boat.

On September 28, 2007, the F/V Jacob Allen sank off Nantucket. The Captain, four fishermen, and a NOAA fishing observer who had had safety training, had carried out an abandon-ship drill on September 27, 2007. The Captain was the drill instructor. At the time of the sinking they were able to don survival suits, jump into a deployed life raft, and activate an EPIRB and the fishery observer?s Personal Locator Beacon (PBL)- a GPS-based beacon. These actions contributed to the quick retrieval of the six because the U.S. Coast Guard received the EPIRB signal from the vessel, the latitude and longitude from the PLB of the observer, then radioed vessels in the vicinity. The F/V Sancor responded to the notification of crew in distress and was able to rescue the six people.

Meghan Miner, the NOAA fisheries observer on board the F/V Jacob Allen when it sank, tells the story of her survival of this sinking and comments on lessons learned.

I work for AIS, Inc., a company that subcontracts fisheries observers for NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). As part of my job, I go out to sea with commercial fishing vessels to collect economic, gear and catch information in order to support viable commercial fisheries.

I first found the job online after graduating from the University of Michigan and subsequently backpacking around the world. I wanted a job that would allow me to take my experience and degree working with freshwater environments to a saltwater setting and a job that would give me the adventure that I still craved. The job of fisheries observer is a perfect match. I am given the opportunity for travel, constantly meet new people and I am given new challenges and adventures.

One such adventure occurred on a fishing trip that left the docks on Friday the 21st of September. I had set off on the F/V Jacob Allen for an industry-funded scallop trip in an open area. Sometime the following Wednesday morning, when I woke for my shift, I heard reports on the radio that the Coast Guard was dealing with an incident involving men overboard on a boat near where we were fishing?none had grabbed their survival suits. The captain, disturbed by these reports, ordered us the next day to do a safety drill. We went out on deck in fairly rough seas (5 ft. waves), and put our survival suits on. Everyone on board did this drill. The following night, Friday the 28th of September, around 4:45pm, after our 7th day of fishing and 8th day at sea, I was awakened by the Captain, Tony, saying that there was ?a situation? on deck, and he needed me out there ?now?.

At first, I thought that this was a joke, and I sorely underestimated the severity of the situation. Groggily, I headed toward the bathroom to get ready for my shift. I could hear the guys screaming my name so I came right out and into the chaos in the galley. I saw crewmembers bringing electronics down from the wheelhouse and into the galley where they were wrapping them in black garbage bags. I grabbed a few things from my bunk and went out on deck, as instructed. On the way to the deck area, I passed the door to the wheelhouse and the area where the survival suits are kept in a door-less closet. I looked down into the engine room and saw water sloshing around on the engine room floor and coming up the steps. This is when I knew something was really wrong.

Some of the crew were already struggling to put their survival suits on. I reminded them to grab layers and put them on under their survival suit in case this were to be a long ordeal. The captain was up in the wheelhouse sending mayday calls. He also deployed the life raft and the EPRIB and brought it with us when we abandoned ship into the life raft. I also set off my own PLB. Everyone jumped from the boat into the life raft without touching the water. The mood was very calm and collected. The captain was the last one into the raft.

We remained floating in the raft, with the painter attached to the sinking vessel for what I think was probably about a half hour. I had brought a plastic bag with a VHF radio given to me by the captain for safekeeping. The radio worked occasionally, and we could hear voices cutting in and out. By this time, the electricity on the boat had gone out, but since we were still attached to the boat by the painter, we could hear the Jacob Alan?s radio (which must have been operating on a backup battery) from the life raft. We searched around in the bags within the life raft and found some flares.

The captain shot off two flares, before we saw a plane overhead. We could hear the pilot of the plane over the Jacob Allen?s radio saying that he had made a low pass, but did not see anything. Worried about the vessel?s stability, the captain cut the life raft?s line free from the Jacob Allen. We sent up another flare when we could hear a plane again. This time we heard radio confirmation of the sighting of our flare. What was approximately an hour to an hour and a half after we abandoned ship, the F/V SANCOR came into view through the fog blaring its horn. We were hoisted onto the portside of the boat by crewmembers of the SANCOR who also helped us to get the life raft aboard.

We waited on the SANCOR for several minutes, watching the Jacob Allen to see if it would sink. Although it was riding low in the water, very wobbly, and without electricity, we never saw the boat sink. The Coast Guard issued navigational warnings concerning the Jacob Allen at least until we reached the dock sometime between 05:00 and 05:30 on Saturday morning the 29th. A member of the US Coast Guard boarded the Sancor and interviewed the crew, collected identification, and then released us all.

Fortunately, thanks to the rapid reception of our EPIRB and PLB signals, we were found and rescued relatively quickly. I can?t say enough how important it is to turn on your PLB once a serious situation has been assessed. I am a little bit upset that I did not set mine off sooner. I kept thinking, oh, everything will be ok, we?ll just see what happens next?until we were actually standing there, in our survival suits, ready to abandon ship. If I had not set off my PLB, and the signal had not been immediately picked up by the Coast Guard and the Air Force, I might not be here today!

Thanks to the survival training that I had, I knew just what to do in this emergency. Although the events were happening quickly, and I was very nervous at first, I took a deep breath and just started following the steps that I had learned in my training class- it was like an out of body experience, like it wasn?t happening to me. It?s amazing the things that you remember when pressed. I remembered to wear layers, where the knife and flares were located once inside the raft, to remind everyone to drink water to treat shock and prevent overheating in our cramped steamy life raft, how to shoot a flare, and even to keep making jokes. Mostly, in this situation, the jokes revolved around me forgetting to bring my cell phone, and how mermaids will be my personal operators at least for a while. At least my calls would be screened. The captain also kept things light hearted and acted very quickly. If it were not for his cool-headedness, his drills, and his survival training, things might have gone much differently.

This boat met and exceeded all of the safety requirements (they had an 8 man raft for a 6 man crew), had recently had their life raft re-packed. The captain had also gone through a similar safety course, and was able to conduct drills on his boat very efficiently. Had I gone on any other seemingly fine boat, and had neglected to check the life raft, safety sticker, EPIRB, or anything else as I had been taught to do, and something had been wrong or out-of-date- things could have gone much less smoothly!

We were fortunate enough to have conducted a survival drill on the boat the day before our boat actually went down, and this helped tremendously. More captains should conduct drills- particularly every time they add or change crew members?you never know when this trip could be the one where you need to act on those drills!

This whole situation, if nothing else, made me very aware of how important it is to do the safety checklist before getting on the boat, and to check for other things as well. It is your safety out there, and you are responsible for looking out for it!

Ann Backus, MS is an Instructor in Occupational Health at Harvard School

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