Crew abandons burning ship near Funter Bay

Two escape uninjured after fire in engine room of Alaskan Pride

Posted: Monday, October 19, 2009

Late Tuesday last week, Capt. Mike Worthington was running the 55-foot Alaskan Pride tender near Funter Bay, about 15 miles south of Point Retreat in Chatham Strait.

Courtesy Of Harry R. Sharclane
Courtesy Of Harry R. Sharclane

"Everything's fine - then all of sudden, everything's not fine," said the fisherman from Kake.

There was a fire in the engine room. After he and his deckhand exhausted every means of fighting the fire, it spread quickly.

"We could see the flames, obviously. There was a lot of smoke," Worthington said. "It started in the engine room, spread to the wheelhouse, was probably almost into the galley by the time we got into the life raft. By the time we had our suits on, the whole house galley was engulfed in flames. We could probably see 3, 4 feet of mast."

They put out a mayday call before abandoning the ship for a life raft tethered to the flaming boat. The winds were blowing in the darkness around 35 knots with 8- to 10-foot seas.

"It was, yeah, pretty crappy weather. By the time we got on survival suits, the boat had turned sideways, entered the trough," he said.

Neither man panicked. They'd spotted another vessel nearby on the radar before leaving the Alaskan Pride.

"And they couldn't miss the flaming boat, either," Worthington said.

The other ship was the Alaska Marine Highway System's ferry Taku, which was en route to Hoonah, from Juneau. Capt. Thomas Moore changed course to rescue the two men and was there in about 30 minutes.

He brought the ferry close to the life raft and lowered a lifeboat to the water with half a dozen men, who plucked Worthington and his deckhand, Darren Manual of Spokane, Wash, out of the raft. Neither one was injured.

"Never even got wet," Worthington said.

Harry R. Sharclane of Hoonah was aboard the Taku and witnessed the nighttime rescue. He said he was impressed by how smoothly it went, especially considering the weather.

"The wind was blowing hard, it nearly blew my glasses off," he said. "These guys train and train and train in calm weather, but the real push was last night. The real test, they pulled through miraculously. ... Someone's really on the ball."

Worthington had recently taken a class through the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association, "which very possibly saved our lives," he said.

"I'd suggest that to anybody that's on a boat. Had a lot to do with our survival," he said. "I was prepared, knew what to do, knew how to get into survival suits."

Meanwhile, the Alaskan Pride was a total loss. The Coast Guard flew over it on Wednesday morning and reported it was still on fire. The vessel later sank in several hundred feet of water in Square Cove.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation said the Pride had about 400 gallons of diesel fuel and an unknown amount of lube and engine oil on it when the fire broke out Tuesday. A DEC spokeswoman says most of the petroleum products likely burned off in the fire.

Auke Bay seafood processor Alaska Glacier Seafood Co. owned the boat. Company president Mike Erickson poured praise on his guys, the Coast Guard and ferry crew, who he said all acted professionally. For Erickson, that his guys came away unscathed made it a happy ending.

"It certainly could have been a lot worse," Erickson said.

Losing the Pride, which the company had owned for nine years, is a sore spot, though.

"Pretty sad in having that one go. It played a major role in the forward movement of this seafood company. You become pretty attached. But, you know, things like that happen," Erickson said.

Erickson didn't say what the value of the boat was, though he said it was insured.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Jeremy Hsiehat

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