ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The search has been called off for the six veteran fishermen aboard a crabbing boat missing in the icy, turbulent Bering Sea.
The fishing vessel Destination went missing early Saturday after an emergency signal from a radio beacon registered to the ship. The signal originated from 2 miles off St. George, an island about 650 miles west of Kodiak Island.
The Coast Guard released a statement Monday night saying the search has been suspended.
“We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the six crewmembers during this extremely difficult time,” said Rear Adm. Michael McAllister, commander of the Coast Guard 17th District. “The decision to suspend a search is always difficult and is made with great care and consideration.”
Out of respect for the families, the owners of the vessel were not releasing names of crewmen, who are all experienced, professional fishermen, said spokesman Mike Barcott in an email from Seattle.
“This is a terrible tragedy for them and the fishing community,” Barcott said. “Our hearts are broken for their loved ones who are now left with the certainty of this tragic sinking.”
The search began after the Coast Guard received the signal from the Destination’s emergency beacon. The device can by activated manually or automatically when it hits seawater.
Searchers found the device in a debris field along with an oil slick, life ring and buoys.
A C-130 transport plane joined the Coast Guard cutter Morgenthau in the search for the 98-foot vessel. Upon arrival, the crew of the plane reported 30 mph winds, 5- to 8-foot waves and an air temperature of 20 degrees.
The Coast Guard received no mayday call indicating a problem with the vessel, Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Steenson said.
Bad weather is the main hazard for Bering Sea fishing vessels at this time of year, said Lt. Brenden Kelley, operations officer and navigator on the Kodiak-based Munro, a sister vessel to the Morgenthau
Boat captains with computer connectivity have far more tools than in the past for watching the weather and can take steps to avoid or mitigate its danger, he said.
The primary factor is the direction of the wind and distance it travels, or fetch, which determines wave height and frequency, he said.
There are not many places to find shelter in the Bering Sea, but the leeward sides of St. George and St. Paul islands are two important options, Kelley said.
“When the wind gets blocked by an island, or a barrier, man-made or otherwise, it really helps to push down some of the seas and make it a little better and safer for the vessels,” he said.
Seawater freezes at 26 to 28 degrees, he said, and ice can build up on a boat. In open ocean, boats will vary their course so that sea spray hits both sides of the vessel. Crews use baseball bats or rubber mallets to remove ice because too much weight decreases buoyancy and could make a boat flip.
Barcott says the owners will work with the Coast Guard to learn what they can to help prevent such an event from happening again.