Trawler's Sinking Raises Many Issues

Testimony continues today in Anchorage, Alaska, as a Marine Board of Inspection continues to investigate the March 23 sinking of the Alaska Ranger, a fishing trawler that lost five of its 47 crew members when it went down. A mayday call to the Coast Guard reported water entering at the ship's stern, but why and how that happened and why five people died has not been determined. The board has heard testimony about passageways blocked with gear, rough passages through ice floes that jarred the ship and may have damaged its hull, and an engineer alleged to have been drinking before going on watch.

How much control fish masters have over skippers' decisions is an ancillary issue; a crewman testified an earlier skipper bridled at fishing master Satoshi Konno's urging to move fast through ice chunks, causing more powerful impacts with the ice. Konno died in the sinking, and his body was not recovered. The ship's skipper, Eric Jacobsen, also died.

The board completed a week of testimony in Unalaska on April 3. The Coast Guard and NTSB say the board's investigation will take several weeks. Coast Guard witnesses have said Alaska Ranger had its necessary complement of safety equipment on board and participated in the Coast Guard's commercial fishing vessel safety program. A Seattle firm named Fishing Company of Alaska owned the Alaska Ranger. The ship had been inspected in January, and nine of 31 items identified as needing repair or maintenance remained as open items when the ship was lost off the Aleutian Islands, about 120 miles west of Dutch Harbor, Capt. Mike Rand, chief of the Coast Guard's safety investigation unit in the case, told reporters.

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