ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Arctic Rose sank in a storm that a National Weather Service forecaster described as ''moderately strong'' for the Bering Sea, and he said freezing spray was not likely a factor.
Robert Hopkins, the meteorologist in charge of the agency's Anchorage office, Tuesday told the Coast Guard panel investigating the sinking of the Arctic Rose that maximum sustained winds at the time of the sinking were estimated at 45 knots, with seas to 24 feet.
Fifteen men were killed when the 92-foot Arctic Rose, a commercial fishing and processing vessel, sank suddenly during the early morning hours of April 2.
The board, which is trying to learn why the vessel went down, took testimony for three weeks last month in Seattle, where some of the lost crew members lived and where the company that owned the boat is based. Tuesday's testimony in Anchorage was the first from the National Weather Service.
''We've been looking forward to this testimony,'' said Capt. Ron Morris, chairman of the board of investigation. Morris said there were conflicting reports about weather from boats in the area at the time.
Meteorologist Hopkins said that, on a scale of 1-10, he would rate the storm as ''at about five or six, somewhere in the middle.''
The air temperature at the time was about 37 degrees -- too warm for icing to have been a factor in the accident, Hopkins said. Ice accumulations can make fishing boats top-heavy, causing them to capsize.
Several of those who testified before the panel have raised questions about the vessel's stability. A former crewman who testified Tuesday said he felt the boat roll suddenly several times, but says the Coast Guard paid no attention when he brought the issue to them.
Bobby Croom of Anchorage said he worked on the vessel as a deckhand about six years ago. At that time, the vessel was known as the Sea Power and was owned by Dr. D.K. Stokes of Eureka, Calif.
The vessel had undergone significant alterations by the time it was purchased by Dave Olney, owner of Arctic Sole Seafoods of Seattle, in 1999.
Croom told the board the vessel rolled sharply to port four times during the 15 days he worked on the vessel.
''It would just hang there and then slowly come back,'' Croom said. He also testified of flooding in the engine room.
Croom said he discussed safety issues with other crew members during a stop in Dutch Harbor, and was considering going to the Coast Guard when he and several other crew members were fired.
Croom filed a report with the agency, but said the Coast Guard official he spoke with dismissed him as a fired deckhand who was angry, upset and ''just griping.''
''They said, 'We're really fed up with you; just go home,''' Croom told the panel. ''They said if the boat ever goes down, come forward.''
Croom said he thought the tragedy could have been prevented if the Coast Guard had inspected the vessel six years ago.
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