Coast Guard gets glimpse of Arctic Rose before remote camera is lost

Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2001

ABOARD THE OCEAN EXPLORER (AP) -- Coast Guard investigators searching for the missing Arctic Rose got a brief view of the vessel Wednesday before the remotely operated vehicle transmitting pictures was lost at the bottom of the Bering Sea, alongside the Arctic Rose.

The cable controlling the camera-equipped vehicle got tangled in lines drifting from the sunken ship. The cable snapped and the $100,000 ROV was lost in 450 feet of water, said Richard Hansen, owner of Maritime Consultants, the Puyallup, Wash.-based shipwreck hunting company that owned the remotely operated vehicle.

''It's just incredibly disappointing,'' Hansen said. ''We have very little other than we know it's the Arctic Rose and we saw a few things. We were only able to do a small percentage of what our mission was. Very disappointing.''

No effort was being made to recover the remote vehicle.

The Arctic Rose sank suddenly in the Bering Sea April 2, killing all 15 men on board. It was the worst fishing disaster in Alaska waters in nearly two decades. The wreckage is located about 775 miles southwest of Anchorage.

The Coast Guard team investigating the sinking had hoped to get a look at the 92-foot commercial fishing and processing vessel in order to learn why it sank.

The remote vehicle worked successfully for about an hour, giving three members of the Coast Guard panel eerie images of the Arctic Rose, which was sitting upright on the ocean floor. The name of the vessel, painted in white, was visible on the blue hull. The pilothouse also was visible, its windows dark.

There were no obvious signs of damage to the hull. It was not clear if the vessel's fishing nets were deployed at the time it sank.

''We saw the bow and we saw some of the pilothouse. But we really wanted to see the whole exterior of the vessel,'' said Capt. Ron Morris, chairman of the Coast Guard board investigating the disaster.

''The goal of the mission was to try to take a look at the hatches, the windows, the watertight doors, overboard discharges, the rudder, the stern and to try to get an overall sense of what the vessel looked like,'' Morris said.

Visibility was limited in the strong currents of the water, with white schools of plankton frequently swirling before the camera.

The umbilical cable that connected the remotely operated vehicle to controls on board the ship became tangled in lines drifting from the wreckage. The synthetic line is routinely kept in huge spools on the decks of fishing vessels and is used to repair nets.

''The ROV with the camera has tunnel vision. You can't really see from side to side. You're getting into lines and you don't even see them,'' said Jamie Sherwood of Maritime Consultants. Sherwood was operating the controls of the ROV when it became tangled.

''We tried to get out of it for an hour or so and it just go worse and worse. We tried to pull it up and broke the cable, so the ROV is left down there,'' Sherwood said.

The Coast Guard had hired the 155-foot Ocean Explorer for the underwater search. The vessel was already rigged for underwater surveys because it had just completed a 30-day research project for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Sonar equipment aboard the Ocean Explorer was used to locate the Arctic Rose early Wednesday morning. After the remote video camera was lost, the sonar was used again, to gather additional images of the wreckage before the vessel headed back to Unalaska Wednesday evening.

Morris said the video and sonar images would be analyzed, but it was not clear if they would provide clues to why the Arctic Rose sank. Investigators may never know conclusively what caused the disaster, but they had hoped to rule out possibilities with the aid of the video and sonar data.

''She's not ready to give up her secrets,'' Coast Guard Cmdr. John Bingaman said after the remotely operated vehicle was lost. Bingaman is a member of the Coast Guard board of investigation.

The crew of the Ocean Explorer conducted the search under bright sunshine, as an audience of hundreds of gulls floated on the water.

The search began after members of the Coast Guard panel held a brief memorial service for the 15 crewmen lost. The name of each man killed was read and a wreath was dropped overboard.

The sinking of the Arctic Rose was the worst commercial fishing disaster off Alaska since 1982, when the Japanese trawler Akebono Maru capsized, killing 32. It was the worst U.S. commercial fishing disaster since 1951 when the Goodrun sank off the coast of New England, killing 15 fishermen.

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