An eye-opening tale of a modern maritime disaster and its tortuous aftermath.
Less showy—but less gripping, too—than Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm, Newsday correspondent Kugiya’s account of the sinking of the Arctic Rose makes a sturdy companion. Like that of the Andrea Gail, the 15-man crew of the 100-foot-long Arctic Rose was a mixed lot: the assistant engineer was on the run from the law, the cook a decorated Vietnam vet, the first mate an adept student of the stock market. Most of the hands were young; some had survived drugs to become born-again Christians, others the Mexican desert to enter the US illegally. All were there to make anything but easy money; as Kugiya writes, fishermen in general are “the last hunters, the last cowboys, wage-earners walking the tightrope of waves and storms and freezing temperatures,” 15 times more likely to die on the job than police officers or firefighters, and the Arctic Rose was working the particularly dangerous but fish-rich Bering Sea. In the early morning of April 2, 2001, working an area nearly off the sea charts, the Arctic Rose sank “abruptly and swiftly,” and all aboard drowned. The Coast Guard soon launched an inquiry that would last two years and produce many hypotheses: for a time it was thought that the vessel, “built without blueprints by a Vietnamese fisherman on a rented piece of beachfront in Biloxi, Mississippi,” had come apart in heavy seas, then that a suddenly developing low-pressure front might have sent high waves and winds crashing into the boat from several directions at once. The eventual explanation, it turns out, was not so dramatic, attributed to human error, and the board of inquiry made 31 recommendations meant to improve the safety of commercial fishing vessels. Those recommendations, however, were “just that, mere suggestions,” and soon afterward the events of 9/11 would divert the Coast Guard’s attention to port and coastal security.
Solid investigative journalism, though of no comfort to anyone contemplating a tour aboard a factory ship.