ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Coast Guard panel investigating the sinking of the Arctic Rose will try to get a look at the vessel next week with the aid of sonar and a remotely operated camera. But Coast Guard officials said Monday they have no plans to recover the vessel or anything on it.
''It's going to help this marine board immensely in determining what happened,'' said Capt. Ron Morris, chairman of the marine board of investigation. ''It would be very difficult for us to determine the cause of this tragedy without more information on what actually happened that night.''
The board is meeting in Anchorage this week to take testimony from those who may be able to help investigators learn why the Arctic Rose sank suddenly in the Bering Sea April 2, killing all 15 men on board. It was one of the worst fishing disasters in nearly two decades.
During testimony Monday the board heard from a former Arctic Rose crewman who expressed concerns about safety on the vessel and from the owner of a marine repair company in Unalaska who made minor repairs to the Arctic Rose earlier this year.
Before testimony began the chairman of the board, Capt. Ron Morris, announced that the panel had received permission from the Coast Guard to search for the Arctic Rose, which is thought to be resting at the bottom of the ocean in 450 feet of water, 775-miles southwest of Anchorage.
''We have a very good idea of where the vessel initially sank because of the emergency position locating radio beacon that was sent out, plus we have the position of the oil spill observed during the search and the debris field,'' Morris said.
It is hoped that the pictures will give investigators a better idea of why the vessel sank without even enough time for the crew to send out a distress signal.
The panel will fly to Unalaska Saturday and board a sonar-equipped vessel currently under contract to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It will take about two days for the vessel to reach the area where the Arctic Rose went down. The investigators will have three days to look for the 92-foot fishing vessel and to take photos before returning to Unalaska, Morris said.
If the Arctic Rose is found, the crew will lower a remotely operated vehicle equipped with lights and cameras down to the vessel. Investigators hope to learn if the fishing nets were deployed at the time the ship went down. They also hope to see if watertight doors were closed and to get a look at the condition of the hull and the wheelhouse.
The examination would be limited to the outside of the vessel as the remotely operated vehicle is too large to go through windows, Morris said.
''If we're successful the intention is to take the video and allow the family members an opportunity to view this before anyone else,'' Morris said. ''That would be done down in Seattle.''
James Valentine, who worked as a deckhand aboard the Arctic Rose in February and March of last year, told the board he was concerned about safety issues on the vessel. Valentine, who has worked aboard commercial fishing vessels for 23 years, also said he had ''uneasy feelings'' about the vessel's stability.
''When it made some turns, it wouldn't right itself right away. It was a real queer feeling,'' said Valentine, 43, of Auburn, Wash.
Valentine is currently working aboard the Katie Ann, fishing for salmon in Prince William Sound.
Valentine told the board he did not get a safety briefing when he began working aboard the Arctic Rose and could not recall any safety drills during the roughly six weeks he worked on the vessel.
Valentine said one watertight door did not close properly while he was on board the ship. He also said workers processing the fish repeatedly used a broom handle to prop open the door to a chute used to dump fish waste overboard. Valentine said he found the door propped open a half dozen times after the processing crew had completed its work for the day.
''Quite a bit of water would come gushing through there if it was left open,'' he said. Valentine said he notified the captain and first mate of the problem.
Valentine said his first assignment aboard the vessel was to check the survival gear on board. He said he found some of the suits were zippered up.
''In my mind, that's a big no-no,'' he said.
Valentine described nights spent fishing with huge nets that hauled in tons of rock sole and cod while the processing crews slept. The fish was then processed by workers who put in 16-hour days.
Valentine said he left the vessel after about six weeks because he wasn't making as much money as he had hoped and was concerned about safety.
When he returned to Washington, Valentine filed for unemployment. His claim was initially denied because he left the Arctic Rose voluntarily. He appealed the denial and was eventually granted unemployment benefits after a telephone conference about safety on the vessel with a state unemployment official and Arctic Rose owner Dave Olney.
Despite his concerns, Valentine said he was puzzled as to why the vessel sank with little warning.
''It just seems really strange to me,'' he said.
Also testifying Monday was Dave Magone, owner of Magone Marine of Unalaska which had made repairs to the vessel in January, February and March. Magone said the work included modification of an aluminum bin that held fish below deck, work to repair a small hydraulic crane on the deck and to repair a problem with a bearing on the shaft that connects the engine with the propeller.
''I didn't see anything that would cause concern about its seaworthiness in my casual observation,'' Magone said.
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