Updated @ 12:28 pm Feb. 20
The U.S. Coast Guard rescued four fishermen from a rapidly sinking fishing boat 18 miles south of the Vineyard, on Wednesday evening, Feb. 14.
The captain of the Sea Star radioed the Coast Guard at 6:20 pm, saying the boat was listing heavily, taking on water, and that crew members were donning immersion survival suits, USCG Petty Officer Nicole Groll told The Times.
A Jayhawk helicopter and an Ocean Sentry surveillance plane from Air Station Cape Cod, already in the air for training, diverted to the Sea Star’s distress call, according to a Coast Guard press release.
Air Station Cape Cod Commander Brian McLaughlin was the pilot of the Jayhawk. “The Sea Star crew said they began taking on water for an unknown reason,” McLaughlin told The Times. “They knew right away that it was pretty dire.”
McLaughlin said he and his crew were training on the southeast side of Woods Hole with a boat crew from Station Woods Hole when the emergency call came in. It was hoist training, exactly the type of rescue procedure later employed to save the fishermen, he said.
McLaughlin said his crew reached the Sea Star in 10 to 15 minutes, and 60 percent of the stern was submerged.
The boat was a moving target, with the captain running at full throttle to help keep it afloat. With the aid of a rescue swimmer, the Jayhawk hoisted two of the fishermen after they leapt from the moving boat.
The captain radioed McLaughlin and said, “The engine died. She’s going down.”
The captain and the remaining fisherman then abandoned ship.
“The boat sank right in front of us as we picked the last two up,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin credited the Ocean Sentry crew, a fixed-wing aircraft that flew above the rescue with their infrared camera trained on the Sea Star, with making sure no fishermen were lost. He said the communication link with Sector Southeast command helped ensure that the Jayhawk crew could focus solely on rescue efforts.
The fishermen were flown to Air Station Cape Cod, where they were examined by medical personnel and listed in good condition.
A motor lifeboat from Station Menemsha was deployed to assist the aircraft. The crew was about five miles from the site when the Jayhawk helicopter completed the rescue, Station Menemsha Commander Robert Reimer told The Times. The Station Menemsha crew continued to the site and confirmed that the Sea Star had completely sunk and did not pose a marine hazard in of itself, however a Marine Safety Information Bulletin was issued to warn of the potential debris field left behind after it went under.
The fishermen’s immediate use of an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) and the crew’s decision to don immersion suits were important factors in their successful rescue, Groll said.
“I think it’s key they had properly maintained gear,” Reimer said.
The wind blew at 20 mph, the seas were 4 to 6 feet, and it was after dark, he noted.
McLaughlin praised the preparedness of the Sea Star crew, noting they drilled regularly with survival suits. The strobes on those suits enhanced the rescue operation, he said.
Daniel Cohen, president of Atlantic Capes, the company that owns the Sea Star, told The Times on Feb. 20 that the vessel was managed by Old Testament Fisheries LLC.
The Sea Star had just finished a day of Jonah crabbing when she went down, according to Old Testament Fisheries spokesman Robert Vanasse.
“Without the outstanding response by these brave Coast Guard men and women, the crew of the Sea Star may have had a much different experience. Bravo Zulu!” Chad Maguire, managing member of Old Testament Fisheries, said in a press release. “We commend the Captain and all the crew for level headed decision-making in the face of real danger and their calm in executing their evacuation from the sinking vessel…
The crewmembers of the Sea Star have also expressed how very grateful they are to the United States Coast Guard, and most particularly the helicopter crew and rescue swimmer, for their rapid response and unwavering dedication to saving life at sea, despite the risks involved.”
The cause of the sinking is remains under investigation.
For a video of the rescue, visit bit.ly/MVSeaRescue.
Updated to include information from the Sea Star manager and owner.