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Coast Guard Searching For 4 Missing Fishermen After Maine-Based Boat Presumed Sank

A photo of search-and-rescue efforts off CGC Vigorous on Monday.

The U.S. Coast Guard is searching the waters off Provincetown, Massachusetts, for four crewmen of a 82-foot commercial fishing boat, Emmy Rose, based in Portland.

The Coast Guard says the boat’s emergency radio beacon alerted at around 1 a.m. and efforts to reach the crew by satellite phone were unsuccessful.

Coast Guard spokesperson Petty Officer Amanda Wyrick says the Guard sent a helicopter and cutter to the boat’s last known position, arriving at about 3:30 a.m.

“When our crews arrived on scene, they were able to recover some debris and a life raft,” she says.

There was no one in the raft, and Wyrick says the boat is presumed to have sunk. The Coast Guard says attempts to reach the crew by satellite phone were not successful.

Multiple Coast Guard crews are continuing the search in winds gusting over 30 miles per hour, and 6- to 8-foot seas.

The boat’s owner, Westbrook resident Rink Varian, was not on board. He told the Bangor Daily News that the crew were experienced fishermen, but he declined to identify them.

Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association says it’s the kind of day that all in New England’s maritime communities dread.

“It’s something that we feel throughout the community, but there are four families that are waiting for news. And I hope that everybody can be respectful and understanding that these people are going through potentially one of the hardest days of their lives. And the entire community is here to help them and support them,” he says.

The boat appears to have been working most recently out of Gloucester, Massachusetts. In a note on the Facebook page of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wharf, staff say that they were on their way to the dock to unload the Emmy Rose Monday morning when they got the “worst phone call we could have expected” — that the boat and crew were missing.

The groundfish boat participates in a collaborative of a hundred midsize vessels that commit to sustainable fishing practices, from Maine to Maryland.

“We pray to God that they are going to be found safely, even at this late stage,” says Hank Soule, who manages what’s called the Sustainable Harvest Sector. “We thank God that we have folks like the U.S. Coast Guard willing to go out in these conditions and search for these folks tirelessly. You’re simply riding on an ever slimmer branch of hope that a miracle will happen.”

While Varian is owner of the Emmy Rose, the federal fishing permit for the boat is owned by a separate company called Boat Aaron & Melissa Inc. It’s a company that also owned a boat called the Aaron & Melissa II, which sank in gale winds 70 miles south-southeast of Portland in November 2018.

The president of Aaron & Melissa Inc. is listed in filings with Maine’s secretary of state as Bartley McNeel of Westbrook. He and other company officers did not answer calls to listed telephone numbers Monday evening. Varian also could not be immediately reached.

WGME 13 reported a statement from the McNeel family though their attorney Monday afternoon.

“The McNeel family is concentrating on the hope of finding the crewmembers and cooperating with the Coast Guard in their SAR activities. Needless to say, they are deeply concerned for the feelings of the families of the crew and feel it would inappropriate to say anything further at this point,” the attorney said.

A National Transportation Safety Board report on the sinking of the Aaron & Melissa II describes a harrowing story of survival at sea. After fighting to empty flooding lobster and other storage compartments, the sleep-deprived, four-person crew abandoned ship in survival suits and were rescued from a life raft off Monhegan Island with only minor injuries. The NTSB report concluded that the captain caused the sinking by failing to return directly to Rockland port when gale-level conditions were first forecast. Contributing factors included a clogged bilge pump and fouled emergency alert systems.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Michael Kelly received an International Maritime Organization award for exceptional bravery for his rescue. Kelley dropped from a helicopter into seas reportedly as high as 20 feet to secure the life raft for the Aaron & Melissa II and help the hypothermic crew to safety.

The Coast Guard says its cutter will continue its search for the Emmy Rose overnight, and a fixed-wing aircraft will fly out in the morning.

This story was originally published at 10:13 a.m. Monday, Nov. 23, 2020.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.