Coast Guard hearings into sinking start in Seattle

Two-week probe into Arctic Rose accident planned by officials

Posted: Monday, June 11, 2001

SEATTLE - Two months after 15 men died in the sudden sinking of the fishing vessel Arctic Rose in the Bering Sea, the Coast Guard has scheduled two weeks of hearings here trying to determine why it happened.

By the time there was a sign of trouble - an emergency locator beacon that began signaling about 3:30 a.m. April 2 - it was too late. The 92-foot vessel was gone, vanished in relatively calm weather - 6- to 8-foot seas and 25-knot winds.

Fishing and rescue vessels sped to the scene, including its sister ship the Alaskan Rose, just a few miles away. They recovered the body of skipper Dave Rundall, empty survival suits, an empty raft and an oil sheen.

It was the worst U.S. commercial fishing accident in years. The cause may never be known, though it clearly happened very quickly.

"Hopefully the investigation will reveal more details," said Coast Guard Petty Officer Roger W. Wetherell in Juneau, who released the list of witnesses for the Marine Board of Investigations looking into the case.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigator, Robert Ford, will participate along with Coast Guard Cmdr. John Bingaman of Juneau, Capt. Ronald Morris of New Orleans and Lt. James Roberts of Anchorage.

The hearings start Tuesday and run through June 26. They're to resume in Anchorage from July 9-12.

A pre-hearing meeting today will include the "parties of interest" - Arctic Sole Seafoods and a representative of the Mexican consulate. At least three Mexican nationals were on board.

During the proceeding, members of the crew members' families and their legal representatives can attend and question the witnesses, who will be sworn in.

Scheduled to appear are past crew members, rescue coordinators, and shipyard operators and naval architects who worked on the boat.

One witness will discuss her difficulty hiring crew for the vessel, Wetherell said.

Another, described as a port engineer for Scansea Inc., "noted considerable work needed for vessel: shaft leaked, steel pitted," says an entry for Wednesday. The time frame for that survey is not noted, and Coast Guard spokeswoman Aida Cabrera in Seattle said she did not know where the company was based.

Boat owner Dave Olney is to testify Thursday and Friday.

Morris, who is heading the board, has expressed interest in trying to get a look at the ship, believed to be in about 400 feet of water. "Seeing it might not give us the answers. But it might rule out some things," he said late last month.

Wetherell said there was talk Friday of locating the Arctic Rose with sonar and using a camera-equipped remote operating vehicle to check it out. He said he had seen the technology used in the mid-1990s to look at the Italian Gold, which sank off Massachusetts with five lives lost.

"The technology worked incredibly great," he said. "The vessel was located in a matter of hours" and the remote vehicle was able to open up interior departments.

The Italian Gold also went down fast. It was able to transmit a brief distress signal but left few clues as to what had happened, Wetherell said.

When the remote-operating vehicle found it, "the video was so telling," he said. "You could see it had structural failure - likely battered by rogue waves."

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