Investigators press Arctic Rose owner about safety procedures
SEATTLE - Coast Guard Capt. Ron Morris, head of an investigative panel, repeatedly questioned vessel owner Dave Olney on Wednesday on safety procedures on the Arctic Rose, the 92-foot factory trawler that sank in the Bering Sea last spring with all 15 men on board.
Olney, of Seattle, said crew members received instructions for safety, loading and fueling by "word of mouth," rather than from a manual.
Jensen Maritime Consultants of Seattle had prepared stability calculations, with certain guidelines, for the Arctic Rose in the spring and summer of 1999. But the crew had changed the way it handled fueling since those were done, and Olney said he had not had Jensen redo the calculations.
Morris also questioned Olney about a door from the trawl deck to the processing area that was supposed to be kept closed so that water didn't get in and threaten the vessel's stability. Underwater video revealed that the door was open.
Olney said crew members knew they were required to keep the door shut, but they often asked to open it on hot days.
Olney choked up as he testified.
"I know and worked side by side with the 15 men who were lost April 2," said Olney, who was aboard the boat from January until March. Olney's brother Mike Olney was the vessel's engineer and among those lost.
It was Olney's first appearance before the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigations looking into the accident, the worst in the Northwest fishery in decades. He has been granted immunity from prosecution.
As owner of Arctic Sole Seafoods, which pursued sole and other bottom fish off Alaska, he operated two vessels - the Alaskan Rose and the smaller Arctic Rose.
Olney said he bought the Arctic Rose in 1999 and began modifying it to serve as a factory trawler. Olney did extensive work on the vessel, from rebuilding engines to putting new linoleum and appliances in the galley. He didn't recall any major problems on the boat, even in rough weather.
"The vessel handled really well," Olney said. "It rode like a little duck."
Anchorage student hospitalized with inflammation of the brain
ANCHORAGE - An Anchorage middle school student has been hospitalized with inflammation of the brain, 10 weeks after another student from the same school died of a similar condition.
Both students had symptoms consistent with viral encephalitis, according to school and public health officials. They stressed, however, that there is no evidence that other students at Mears Middle School are at risk.
Encephalitis is not a disease but a condition that can be triggered by a number of viruses or bacteria, health authorities said.
The school district sent a letter to parents and posted a message on its Web site Wednesday saying that tests are still being done on the hospitalized student. The Web statement said the student "does not have a contagious illness that can be spread to others."
Eighth-grader Chad Bax died Sept. 16.
The other student's name has not been released. But Joy Bax, Chad's mother, said the student is an eighth-grade girl and was a close friend of her son.
Health officials said they don't know why the students, who lived within one-half mile of each other and had the same friends and classes, have contracted rare neurological ailments.
State restricts caribou hunt
FAIRBANKS - State game managers have put emergency restrictions in place for the Fortymile caribou winter hunting season that opens Saturday.
The state Department of Fish and Game said Wednesday it was setting up a no-hunting corridor near a stretch of the Steese Highway where a couple of hundred caribou are camped near Eagle Summit about 100 miles north of Fairbanks. Thousands more of the animals are lingering within a few miles of the road.
"People will have to be at least one mile off the Steese Highway to shoot a caribou," said Fish and Game biologist Pat Valkenburg.
The hunt also will be limited to just two days, Saturday and Sunday, to ensure that hunters don't kill too many caribou. The quota for the winter Fortymile caribou hunt is 315 animals.
Valkenburg said the area will be reopened if a substantial part of the quota remains.
Fish and Game is simply trying to prevent a hunting free-for-all along the highway, Valkenburg said. The herd, the largest in the Interior, has a current population of almost 40,000.
Moose hunt closed near McGrath
ANCHORAGE - The winter moose hunt near the Interior town of McGrath has been canceled because there are too few bull moose, the state Department of Fish and Game said Wednesday.
The hunt in eastern Unit 19D had been scheduled for the first two weeks in December.
The emergency order closing the hunt was the second one issued in two years to cancel the winter hunt in the 5,200-square-mile game unit, which holds only one moose for every 2.8 square miles.
"We are at risk for potentially not having enough bulls to adequately breed any cows that are still around," said regional biologist Toby Boudreau in McGrath.
A team appointed by Gov. Tony Knowles is looking at ways to boost the moose population around the community.
Mike Fleagle, chief of the McGrath Native Village Council, said cancellation of the winter hunt comes as no surprise to the more than 400 people of McGrath.
"You got to protect the resource," he said. "It is one of those necessary evils."
But the closure will be hard on families, especially those who did not get a moose during the fall hunt, said tribal administrator Theresa Williams.