Commercial fishing has long been known to be one of the most dangerous jobs in all industries, not just the maritime industry. Fishermen deal with bad weather, rough seas, dangerous equipment, long hours, and grueling physical work, so accidents are not uncommon and many lead to fatalities. This was the case when six commercial crabbers were lost at sea on the job, and are now presumed dead.
Commercial Crabbing in the Bering Sea
Commercial fishermen have some of the riskiest jobs in the world. While the most dangerous distinction likely goes to ground fishermen in the Atlantic, commercial crabbers working in Alaska work in an industry that leads to more injuries and fatalities than most jobs. Alaska crabbers go out into the Bering sea and face big waves and rough waters, temperatures that are below freezing, heavy and dangerous gear and equipment, and long hours with little rest or sleep. It is a setting that is ripe for disasters.
The industry is getting safer, thanks to regulations, better training, and better safety gear, but there are still many risks. More than half of all deaths in commercial fishing are cause by some kind of disaster at sea: capsizing, flooding of the vessel, waves that strike the deck. About one-third of deaths in the industry occur after a fall overboard. A fisherman falling overboard may drown, may be lost in the darkness, or may die from hypothermia and exposure.
Six Alaska Crabbers Missing
A crabbing vessel with six crew members on board went missing in the Bering Sea on Saturday, February 11. The boat, called the Destination, was a 95-foot crabber that was based in Seattle, but spent much of its active time around Alaska and in the Bering Sea. The boat had been headed for St. Paul Island when a emergency beacon was activated early Saturday morning near St. George Island.
The U.S. Coast Guard began a search immediately but only found buoys, tarps, and other pieces of equipment in the location from which the emergency beacon originated. The search continued for three days, with ships and helicopters looking for the missing boat and individuals who had been on the boat. The search found nothing and was suspended by Tuesday, February 14. The U.S. Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board then began an investigation into what is now presumed to have been a sinking. It is likely that the cause of the loss will never be determined.
Other fishermen who were out on the Bering Sea the day the Destination went missing may be able to shed some light on what could have happened. They reported experiencing a lot of icy spray. When ice accumulates on a fishing vessel it has to be knocked off regularly. If it is not the vessel can become unstable and may capsize.
Memorial funds are now being set up to honor the lost crew members and to help support their families. The owner of the Destination has not released the names of the crews to avoid privacy violations for the families.