UPDATE: 2:14 p.m. Feb. 14, 2017
After nearly three days, the U.S. Coast Guard has called off the search for six fishermen missing since Saturday, when their crabbing vessel disappeared in the Bering Sea.
Coast Guard officials made the announcement Monday (Feb. 13) night, after search parties found no sign of the F/V Destination — apart from a floating tangle of debris that included the boat’s emergency beacon, several buoys and a life ring.
The 98-foot vessel was on its way to fish for snow crab Saturday morning when it activated its locator beacon two miles northwest of St. George Island.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Shawn Eggert said a cutter, five air crews, and several volunteer vessels responded to the distress signal, searching more than 5,700 square nautical miles with no luck.
“We really don’t know what happened out there,” Eggert said. “So we can’t assume the vessel sank, how that may have happened, or what may have happened to this crew.”
Eggert said the Coast Guard has opened an investigation into the cause of the incident.
If investigators determine the crew didn’t survive, the loss of the Destination will be Alaska’s deadliest commercial fishing accident since 2008, when the F/V Katmai sank in the Amchitka Pass on its way to Unalaska.
Seven of the Katmai’s 11 crew members died in a severe storm after the vessel lost steering power and took on water.
Owners of the Destination say their boat was in good condition at the time of its disappearance. Michael Barcott is the attorney representing the vessel’s principal owner — David Wilson, a fisherman from Sand Point who now lives in Washington.
Barcott said the owners don’t know what happened the Destination either.
“We’ll be working with the Coast Guard to try to sort that out, but right now it’s a mystery,” Barcott said. “Everyone’s thoughts and prayers are with the families of the crew.”
The Coast Guard and the Destination’s owners have declined to the name the lost crew members until their families have been consulted.
Two days after a fishing vessel went missing in the Bering Sea, U.S. Coast Guard officials say there’s been no sign of the ship — or the six people onboard — since searchers found its emergency beacon Saturday (Feb. 11) afternoon.
The F/V Destination sent a distress signal Saturday morning, two miles northwest of St. George Island.
The Coast Guard has launched a search for the 98-foot crabber, which is based in Sand Point and Seattle.
David Wilson and his brother have owned the boat for more than 30 years, according to their maritime attorney Michael Barcott.
“They are a longtime Alaska fishing family with deep roots in the Sand Point community,” Barcott said.
Barcott said the vessel was on its way to fish for opilio snow crab when it activated its electronic position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB).
“The boat had left Sand Point, called in Dutch Harbor to pick up some bait, and was on its way to St. Paul Island,” Barcott said. “The EPIRB went off at 6:11 a.m. Saturday, and it appears it was somewhere between two and four miles off St. George Island at the time of the incident.”
The Coast Guard has not released any theories as to what may have happened to the Destination. Barcott said the owners don’t know either.
“We know this: This was a really good and experienced crew,” Barcott said. “This captain had been on this boat for a long time, the boat was in good condition, and it is an absolute mystery what happened.”
Coast Guard Petty Officer Lauren Steenson said searchers found the boat’s emergency beacon at sea Saturday afternoon “among a debris field containing buoys, a life ring, and an oil sheen.”
The search has continued since then with no luck, and Steenson said it’s unclear how long the Coast Guard will continue looking.
“I’m not sure, and I wouldn’t be able to speculate,” Steenson said. “At the moment, we have the Coast Guard cutter Morgenthau searching, with an aviation detachment onboard. It’s an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew, two MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews, and two HC-130 Hercules airplane crews.”
Steenson said St. George residents are patrolling the shore for signs of the Destination or its crew. Two volunteer ships — the fishing vessels Bering Rose and Silver Spray — also responded.
“We appreciate all of the Good Samaritans coming together and the community of St. George setting up search parties for the shoreline,” Steenson said. “We really rely on the maritime community to respond to urgent marine broadcasts, help us get more eyes out there, and hope for the best.”