ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- A fishing vessel with 15 people on board apparently sank in the Bering Sea early Monday in what may be one of the worst fishing disasters in Alaska waters in two decades.
The bodies of two crew members from the Arctic Rose were found Monday morning and the Coast Guard was continuing its search for the remaining 13.
''We're keeping our hopes up that they're still alive,'' said Coast Guard spokesman Keith Alholm. But weather was worsening in the area, with 20- to 25-foot seas and 40 knot winds.
''Anytime you get a system like that it hampers the search efforts. The winds make it harder to find people in the water,'' Alholm said.
Searchers spotted an oily sheen, an empty life raft, survival suits and other debris in the area, about 200 miles northwest of St. Paul Island. The area is about 775 miles southwest of Anchorage.
The Arctic Rose went down at about 3:30 a.m. Monday. The Coast Guard picked up an emergency locator beacon signal from the 92-foot vessel.
There had been no distress call from the crew before the locator beacon signal, Coast Guard spokeswoman Marshalena Delaney said. The last radio contact with the vessel was made at about 10:30 p.m. Sunday when crew of the Arctic Rose contacted its sister ship, the Alaskan Rose.
''That was the last time anybody had heard from them. That was their normal check in,'' Delaney said.
A Coast Guard C-130 transport plane was launched to search for the ship and arrived in the area at 8:30 a.m. The Coast Guard crew spotted two bodies at 10:30 a.m., but found no sign of the vessel.
Coast Guard searchers directed the Alaskan Rose to the site and the crew of the Alaskan Rose retrieved the bodies. The victims have not been identified, Delaney said. One of the victims was wearing a survival suit, while the other was not.
Two Coast Guard cutters also were sent to the scene but were not expected to arrive until sometime Tuesday.
It's not known why the vessel went down. Winds in the area were reported to be 25 knots with six- to eight-foot seas at the time.
''It's not bad for the Bering Sea but, for most other places, it would be considered rough weather,'' Alholm said.
It's not uncommon for catcher-processor boats like the Arctic Rose to work in much rougher seas, he said.
The Arctic Rose is owned by Arctic Sole Seafoods of Seattle and is based out of Dutch Harbor.
''We know the Coast Guard is searching. We're just hoping and praying they'll turn something up,'' said John Casperson, the company's vice president and counsel. He said the ship was fishing for rock sole, yellowfin sole and other fish.
The Arctic Rose is a catcher-processor, a vessel that catches fish in trawl nets and has equipment on board to remove the fish heads, gut the fish and freeze them.
The Coast Guard said it had conducted a routine law enforcement and safety check of the Arctic Rose at sea on Feb. 25 and found no violations. The last time the vessel had a full-blown safety inspection at dockside was Sept. 2 of 1999. No violations were found at that time, Alholm said.
If no survivors are found, the accident would be the worst fishing disaster in Alaska waters since the Japanese trawler Akebono Maru capsized 50 miles north of Adak on Jan. 5 1982, killing 32 people.
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