5 die in fish factory sinking in Alaska,flooding first noticed in rudder room

Makoto Oide, who served as a technician aboard Alaska Ranger, draws a diagram of the vessel for the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation. [Photos courtesy U.S. Coast Guard]

Second Assistant Engineer Rodney Lundy and engine technician Makoto Oide took one look at the rudder-room hatch of their fish-factory ship, Alaska Ranger, and immediately realized their lives were in danger.

Within a couple of hours of their discovery, Alaska Ranger sank in the Bering Sea. Five of the 47 crewmembers were killed in the March 23 sinking. Among the survivors, Lundy was perhaps the first to discover the water ingress that would engulf the 189-foot trawler.
Attempting to reach the rudder room in response to an alarm, Lundy opened a watertight door at a 20-foot passageway that led to it. He saw seawater coming up through deck plates. Facing fast-rising water, Lundy quickly dogged the door with a sledgehammer and fled the compartment.
“We had to have a breach somewhere, a split in the seam,†Lundy testified at a Marine Board of Investigation hearing in Unalaska, Alaska. “When it went bad, it went bad quick … I didn’t want to drown. First thing on my mind was close that door.â€
Oide, an engine technician from Japan, was ordered to the rudder room. Speaking through an interpreter, Oide testified he saw water leaking through a seal in a watertight hatch. He, too, hammered the hatch dogs and then manually closed hatches to fish chutes.
Oide saw a 1- to 2-inch weld missing in refrigeration piping that passes through a bulkhead between the rudder room and the engine room, and water was leaking through. Water was rising in the engine room.
The seawater ingress was relentless. In just two hours, the 36-year-old Alaska Ranger sank into the Bering Sea, about 120 miles west of Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

Two seamen from the cutter Munro assist a survivor from the sinking.

The loss of Alaska Ranger has focused investigators’ attention on the seaworthiness of the large commercial trawlers whose crews harvest Atka mackerel, yellowfin sole and other seafood from the icy waters off Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

Crew of Alaska Ranger said the so-called “head-and-gut†vessel had a reputation for instability, and one fisheries inspector testified that some of its doors were in poor condition, with frayed seals. Officers and crew sometimes consumed alcohol on board, crewmen testified. One said the chief engineer smelled of alcohol during the sinking.
Richard Canty, a former captain of Alaska Ranger, told Professional Mariner the converted former oil-service vessel offered mariners a narrow margin for error. The boat was difficult to handle in heavy seas, and Canty occasionally “took it off the grounds†and refused to fish due to safety concerns.
It was “stupid†to build the vessel with such “massive gantries and massive gallows,†and too much of the fish storage was installed above deck, said Canty, who worked for Alaska Ranger owner Fishing Co. of Alaska from 1995 to 2004.
“It was a very unstable boat — very top-heavy and poorly designed,†Canty said in an interview. “Anytime something would go wrong, you would have a very dangerous boat.â€
Alaska Ranger’s seasoned captain, Eric Peter Jacobsen, 65, was among the mariners killed in the disaster. Fishing Co. of Alaska said the others were Daniel Cook, the chief engineer; Dave Silveira, the mate; and crewman Byron Carrillo. Missing and presumed dead is fish master Satoshi Konno.

Members of the Marine Board of Investigation  tour the trawl deck of Alaska Warrior, another Fishing Company of Alaska vessel. The crew of Alaska Warrior responded to the distress call of the fish processor and recovered several of the crewmembers of Alaska Ranger.

In statements, the Seattle-based company said its vessels are safe and well maintained. Regarding Alaska Ranger, the company said it did “not have sufficient information to determine why the vessel foundered.â€

The company called the victims “incredibly brave, hardworking men. Our hearts are broken.†Criticism of the vessel’s safety or maintenance record was “tarnishing†their “good names,†the company said.
Fishing Co. of Alaska said it has a “zero-tolerance†policy prohibiting alcohol and drugs at sea. Anyone caught with these items could be fired.
The water ingress alarm triggered a frantic response from Alaska Ranger’s crew beginning around 0300. Bulkheads and watertight doors failed to isolate the invading seawater. The crew recognized their factory trawler was at risk of sinking.
“Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is the Alaska Ranger,†an officer reported in a distress call to the Coast Guard’s Kodiak station. “We are flooding — taking on water in our rudder room.â€
With water rising in the rudder room, any open or failing hatches would have doomed Alaska Ranger, its ex-captain said.
“The access passage (from the rudder room) was aft of the engine room, past where the refrigeration compressors are arrayed,†Canty said. “As tender as that boat was, if you have a flooded rudder room, you can get a whole cascade of events. … If the watertight hatches aren’t sealed, you have a flooding situation and the engine room is uncontrollable.â€
Water quickly filled the engine room and the ramp room, which contains electrical transformers. Some officers started activating dewatering pumps — in vain. The ship lost all power.
The vessel rolled about 10° to starboard, righted itself, then rolled again — this time as much as 40° to starboard. By 0500, the crew donned survival suits, launched the life rafts and abandoned ship.
Alaska Ranger disappeared stern-first. Two Coast Guard helicopters and sister fishing vessel Alaska Warrior rescued 42 of the 47 crew in 10-foot seas and 25-knot winds.
The Marine Board of Investigation’s chairman, Coast Guard Capt. Michael Rand, said the inquiry would “reconstruct the events of the incident and understand the operation and maintenance history of the vessel.â€
Rand said the investigators would examine “any incompetence, misconduct, unskillfulness or willful violations of the law.â€
In a statement, the Coast Guard confirmed that the inquiry would probe a report that one victim was lost while being hoisted up to a helicopter. Crewmen testified that it was Carrillo. The board also examined testimony that some of the crew’s survival suits had holes in them, and others were sliced in the glove areas while the men were handling life-raft lines.
Jacobsen was a native of Weymouth, Mass. Silveira, 50, was from San Diego, the same hometown of Cook, who was in his 50s. Konno, also in his 50s, was from Japan. Carrillo, age 36, was from Los Angeles.
Alaska Ranger was not in full compliance with a Coast Guard program to improve the safety of the head-and-gut fleet. More than 50 fish-factory ships were ordered to patch corroded hulls and improve watertight integrity and training. The deadline for full compliance was in January 2008; Alaska Ranger was seeking an extension.
Canty said government regulators should be blamed more than Fishing Co. of Alaska for the condition of Alaska Ranger and the rest of the aging Dutch Harbor fleet.

“It’s not the company’s fault that they’re running these boats,†said Canty, who now captains a tugboat on the Hudson River. “It’s not that FCA chooses to run rotten boats. If you go to Dutch, the first thing that will strike you is that all of these boats are ancient. The people who write the regulations created a situation where the people who earn their living by fishing can’t bring a new boat into the fishery and transfer the quota.â€

By Professional Mariner Staff