Crewman says USCG ignored safety warning

Deckhand testifies he tried to tell authorities Arctic Rose was unsafe years before it sank

Posted: Wednesday, July 11, 2001

ANCHORAGE - A former Arctic Rose crewman says he warned the Coast Guard the ship was dangerous about six years ago, but was ignored.

Fifteen men died when the 92-foot commercial fishing and processing vessel sank suddenly in the Bering Sea during the early morning hours of April 2.

Former deckhand Bobby Croom of Anchorage testified Tuesday before a Coast Guard panel investigating the sinking. Investigators also heard details of the weather at the time of the sinking from a federal forecaster.

Croom said the vessel rolled sharply to port four times during the 15 days he worked on the vessel. At that time, the vessel was known as the Sea Power and was owned by D.K. Stokes of Eureka, Calif.

"It would just hang there and then slowly come back," Croom said. He also testified of flooding in the engine room.

Croom said he discussed safety issues with other crew members during a stop in Dutch Harbor, and was considering going to the Coast Guard when he and several other crew members were fired.

Croom filed a report with the agency, but said the Coast Guard official he spoke with dismissed him as a fired employee who was angry, upset and "just griping."

"They said, 'We're really fed up with you; just go home,"' Croom told the panel Tuesday. "They said if the boat ever goes down, come forward."

Croom said he thought the tragedy could have been prevented if the Coast Guard had inspected the vessel six years ago.

However, the vessel had undergone significant alterations by the time it was purchased by Dave Olney, owner of Arctic Sole Seafoods of Seattle, in 1999.

Also testifying Tuesday was Robert Hopkins, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service's Anchorage office.

Hopkins said maximum sustained winds at the time of the sinking were estimated at 45 knots, with seas to 24 feet. The air temperature at the time was about 37 degrees - too warm for icing to have been a factor in the accident, Hopkins said.

Ice accumulations can make fishing boats top-heavy, causing them to capsize.

The Coast Guard board, which is trying to learn why the vessel went down, took testimony for three weeks last month in Seattle, where some of the lost crew members lived and where the company that owned the boat is based. Tuesday's testimony in Anchorage was the first from the National Weather Service.

"We've been looking forward to this testimony," said Capt. Ron Morris, chairman of the board of investigation. Morris said there were conflicting reports about weather from boats in the area at the time.

Meteorologist Hopkins said that, on a scale of one to 10, he would rate the storm as "at about five or six, somewhere in the middle."

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