ANCHORAGE — Six veteran fishermen aboard a crabbing boat have gone missing in the icy, turbulent Bering Sea, and their employers are clinging to hope that they might somehow be found safe.
The fishing vessel Destination went missing early Saturday after an emergency signal from a radio beacon registered to the ship. The signal originated from 2 miles off St. George, an island about 650 miles west of Kodiak Island.
Now, as the Coast Guard continues its search, the ship’s owners are hoping for the best.
“The owners still hold on to a small ray of hope that they may be found,” said Mike Barcott, a spokesman for the owners of the vessel, said in an email from Seattle.
Out of respect for the families, they were not releasing names of crewmen, who are all experienced, professional fishermen, he said.
“This is a terrible tragedy for them and the fishing community,” Barcott said.
The search began after the Coast Guard received the signal from the Destination’s emergency beacon. The device can by activated manually or automatically when it hits seawater.
Searchers found the device in a debris field along with an oil slick, life ring and buoys.
A C-130 transport plane has rejoined the Coast Guard cutter Morgenthau in the search for the 98-foot vessel. Upon arrival, the crew of the plane reported 30 mph winds, 5- to 8-foot waves and an air temperature of 20 degrees.
The Coast Guard received no mayday call indicating a problem with the vessel, Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Steenson said.
Bad weather is the main hazard for Bering Sea fishing vessels at this time of year, said Lt. Brenden Kelley, operations officer and navigator on the Kodiak-based Monroe, a sister vessel to the Morgenthau.
Boat captains with computer connectivity have far more tools than in the past for watching the weather and can take steps to avoid or mitigate its danger, he said.
The primary factor is the direction of the wind and distance it travels, or fetch, which determines wave height and frequency, he said.
There are not many places to find shelter in the Bering Sea, but the leeward sides of St. George and St. Paul islands are two important options, Kelley said.
“When the wind gets blocked by an island, or a barrier, man-made or otherwise, it really helps to push down some of the seas and make it a little better and safer for the vessels,” he said.
Seawater freezes at 26 to 28 degrees, he said, and ice can build up on a boat. In open ocean, boats will vary their course so that sea spray hits both sides of the vessel. Crews use baseball bats or rubber mallets to remove ice.
“You want to get that ice off,” Kelley said, explaining that too much weight decreases buoyancy and could make a boat flip.