ANCHORAGE - A crab boat that sank in the Bering Sea last month was carrying too much weight, according to Coast Guard investigators.
Five men on board the Big Valley died Jan. 15, the opening day of the opilio crab season, when the vessel sank 70 miles west of St. Paul Island, one of the Pribilof Islands.
Investigators said they cannot conclude that overloading caused the sinking. Still, they said the 92-foot vessel was hauling more heavy crab pots than were allowed under the boat's "stability letter," a document prepared last year by a professional maritime consultant that spells out how to load the boat safely.
The boat also was carrying thousands more pounds of bait than the letter specifies, Coast Guard investigators found.
Factoring in the weight of diesel fuel and a full forward hold, the deck of the Big Valley should have been loaded with no more than 31 steel crab pots each weighing 600 pounds.
The squat, square pots should have been stood on edge on the deck with none stacked on top, according to the stability letter prepared by Jensen Maritime Consultants Inc. of Seattle.
Also, the vessel should have carried a maximum 5,000 pounds of herring, cod or other bait.
When the boat left Dutch Harbor, it was carrying 50 to 55 pots weighing 700 pounds each, the Coast Guard investigators believe, and they were stacked twice as high as they should have been. The boat carried 13,000 pounds of bait.