Searcher Sinking Follow Up December, 1985

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Searcher Sinking Follow Up December, 1985

Postby BigMesh » Sun Feb 26, 2017 7:23 pm

Deaths Sway Few In Fishing Industry Toward Regulation
February 02, 1986|By Wes Smith.

Boat captain John Camalick listened over marine radio as three of his comrades went to their deaths trapped aboard a sinking fishing boat on Lake Michigan last month.

From the kitchen of his home in Lansing, Camalick anxiously monitored their Mayday calls to the U.S. Coast Guard for 50 minutes.

Camalick, the second of three generations of lake fishermen, knew all six men aboard the boat in distress. He had fished with most of them.

``I was praying for them, hoping for them, hollering for them,`` he said. ``We listened from 10 minutes to 4 until 20 to 5. We listened until the kid said, `We`re going under.` ``

The crew of the Searcher left port in search of chub fish on that frigid Dec. 27. They went out in bad weather and 5-foot seas without a lifeboat, with an unlicensed pilot, with a crew that lacked formal training and in a boat that had never been safety inspected by the Coast Guard.

But there was nothing illegal about the Searcher or its crew. Commercial fishing, the most hazardous profession in this country, according to Coast Guard officials, is virtually unregulated.

Commercial fishing vessels, in general, are exempt from regulations that govern cruise boats, larger commercial vessels and even tug boats. Commercial fishermen are required only to carry life preservers, safety flares and a ship`s bell or air horn. Unlike tow boat operators, the captains and operators of most fishing boats are not licensed.

Better education, not more laws, is needed for the commercial fishing industry, Coast Guard officials said.

``When you have regulations, you have to have enforcers, and we are not a growing outfit,`` said Capt. Lloyd C. Burger, chief of the Coast Guard`s marine safety office in Chicago. ``Besides, we don`t believe that regulations and more inspections are a panacea.

``To write a regulation, you have to have authority in law, but Congress has seen fit to exempt them from the inspection laws that apply to other commercial vessels. We want them to regulate themselves.``

But commercial fishermen have not been inclined to regulate themselves. Free-spirited and often rebellious toward authority, ``hard-hitter`` fishermen regard their occupation as ``the last challenging profession`` and scorn anyone who shows too much concern for safety on the water, Camalick said.

The accidental death rate for commercial fishermen is seven times the national average for all industry groups and twice that of the nation`s second most dangerous occupation, coal mining, according to Coast Guard statistics.

From 1970 to 1980, accident-related deaths for commercial fishermen averaged 103 a year, Coast Guard officials said. Since 1981, the trade has averaged 84 accidental deaths a year.

Nevertheless, commercial fishermen are not required to take formal safety or technical training and most vessels carry only minimal safety gear. Most commercial fishing boats, including the Searcher, are not insured, because

``nobody will insure them,`` said fishermen and Coast Guard officials.

Most commercial fishing accidents occur in coastal waters where the majority of boats operate. Fatal accidents involving commercial fishing boats are rare on Lake Michigan, which has only about 100 such boats operating--only 31 in the Chicago area--compared with 32,000 nationwide.

Coast Guard officials and local fishermen said the Searcher deaths were the first for commercial fisherman on Lake Michigan in at least 40 years.

But the sinking of the Searcher provides an example of the dangers of commercial fishing, an occupation that demands many complex skills but rarely attracts men with formal technical training in navigation and seamanship.

The 65-foot Searcher began taking water onto its main deck for reasons still under investigation before sinking rapidly, stern first, in 138 feet of water. The accident occurred 17 miles east of Chicago.

Three crew members were rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter. The other three, apparently trapped by the suction of the sinking 70-ton boat, are presumed dead. The bodies have not been recovered, despite attempts by salvagers and dive teams hired by the boat`s owner, Lawrence Schweig of Five Lakes Seafood in Chicago.

Though the results of an investigation into the sinking will not be available for months, Coast Guard officials said the ship and the lost crew members might have been saved if the crew had better marine training and better safety equipment.

``When you talk about commercial fishermen, you are talking about people who are not educated to boat design,`` said Burger, of the Coast Guard. ``It`s like half the truck drivers on the highway don`t know where the center of gravity of their load sits. Then they go around a corner and lose their load.``

Sources familiar with the investigation said crew members told the Coast Guard that when they discovered water on the main deck, they opened a rear door to try to force it out. But instead, more water poured in and their situation worsened, the sources said.

`Once you put water on deck, the boat`s center of gravity is altered and a lot of things can happen,`` said Burger. ``When spray and ice build up on a boat, it can drastically alter the stability. We think that may be one of several factors that contributed to this accident.``

The Searcher has been described by its owner as ``the Cadillac of fishing boats.`` But local fishermen said the 40-year-old steel-hulled boat was widely regarded to be unstable.

`I rode on her once and refused to ride again,`` said a Chicago fisherman who asked not to be identified. ``Everyone on the lake knew that she was squirrelly.``

Surviving crew member Gaetano Terranova said the Searcher was ``mis-outfitted`` and ``too heavy`` because the owners had welded an I-beam to the bottom four years ago to compensate for top-heaviness and to improve stability.

But owner Schweig said marine engineers had approved the alteration. And he said the boat operated for four years, sometimes in conditions far worse than those encountered on Dec. 27, without incident.

Schweig and Coast Guard officials noted that Terranova`s concerns did not keep him from going out on the boat.

Other local fishermen said the position of the Searcher`s pilot house blocked the view of the enclosed main deck, preventing the crew from seeing the water build-up unless they stayed on the main deck. They didn`t.

Just before the sinking, the survivors said, the crew had gathered in the galley and pilot house as the boat headed for port. Crew member Randy Silvis said they discovered too late that the main deck was taking on water.

``I blame the men and the boat,`` said a fisherman. ``If they were nervous about the way she handled, they should have paid more attention.``

Raymond Slupik Jr., 23, captain of the Searcher, is known as a top-notch captain schooled in boating by his father, Raymond Sr., ``since he was out of diapers,`` according to friends.

But the young captain lost his father, who was a guest on board, two crewmen and his boat. Coast Guard officials said that if he had better understood the technical aspects of boat design, he might have avoided the accident.

In late 1984, a Fishing Vessel Safety Task Force was set up by the Coast Guard in Washington, D.C., to come up with voluntary guidelines for safety and technical training. The guidelines had to be acceptable to the often rebellious men who operate commercial fishing vessels.

The group put together five circulars of highly technical recommendations for standards on radio and shipboard navigation gear, boat stability, lifesaving equipment, fire protection and hull, machinery and electrical installations. The recommendations are now being condensed and rewritten in simpler language for distribution to fishermen this spring.

Coast Guard officials hope the recommendations eventually will become standards for boat builders and operators. But on Lake Michigan, some fishermen have already changed their attitudes. The Searcher`s fatal accident accomplished what no government agency could hope to do.

``My kid, who fishes out of Kenosha, went out and bought a wet suit, a lifeboat and flares after the Searcher went down,`` said Camalick. ``It`s opened up everybody`s eyes.

``We never carried lifeboats before,`` he said. ``But by God, from now on we sure will.``

All I want to know is who was the unnamed fisherman who called that boat "squirrely"
Go ahead you candy asses. Use your computers, gps and radar. I'll explore new frontiers by the stars alone. - Christopher Columbus

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Re: Searcher Sinking Follow Up December, 1985

Postby MaryDouglas » Thu Mar 09, 2017 6:59 am

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Re: Searcher Sinking Follow Up December, 1985

Postby whitecap » Fri May 12, 2017 4:08 pm

Below is a picture of the fishtug Searcher. The photo is part of the (PAC) Phil Anderson Collection which he graciously borrowed
Fishtug Searcher.JPG
Fishtug Searcher courtesy of Phillip Anderson