ST. JOHN’S — Crews contended with deteriorating weather and five-metre seas on Monday as they searched off Newfoundland’s rugged east coast for a fisherman forced to abandon a sinking shrimp boat on the weekend.
The missing man, who was wearing an immersion suit, was one of five crew members aboard the Sea Gypsy when it ran into trouble late Saturday morning.
Robert Francis Keough, 58, of Calvert, N.L., died in the sinking while three others were rescued, treated for mild hypothermia in a St. John’s hospital and released.
Stephen Brothers, a 31-year-old fisherman who heard a distress call from the sinking vessel, said it was clear the incident Saturday morning occurred rapidly after a rear compartment on the boat took on water.
Brothers was in the wheelhouse of his vessel, motoring off of St. John’s, when he heard the call from his friend Larry Roche, the Sea Gypsy’s captain, come in from his location 107 kilometres east of the capital.
He said Roche radioed that water was entering through the lazaret, a compartment at the rear of the vessel.
Brothers listened as Roche sent a mayday signal at 11:09 a.m. local time to the coast guard, telling the dispatcher that his crew had donned immersion suits and had gathered on deck.
The captain then dashed out of the wheelhouse as the boat started to go down.
Brothers said residents of small towns around the Avalon Peninsula were praying on Monday that the missing crew member would be found.
“I’m just hoping that last fellow is found. Hopefully alive, please God, but even if it’s just to bring him home to his wife,” he said.
The fisherman said the accident is prompting many in the small fishing communities along the Avalon Peninsula to once again question why there is no search and rescue helicopter based in St. John’s.
“We’re fighting this now for years and years and years. They don’t care about the fishermen,” he said.
The search and rescue helicopters are based in the central Newfoundland town of Gander, and some fishermen have long argued a second station should be based in St. John’s.
A Hercules aircraft returned to the scene east of St. John’s early on Monday, but a spokeswoman for the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax said wind and rain could hamper efforts.
“The weather is pretty bad out there,” said Jeri Grychowski. “So what the (Hercules) is doing is checking to see if they can actually do an air search.”
High winds, rain and fog forced a Hercules and a Cormorant helicopter from the search area Sunday, but two coast guard vessels were able to continue searching overnight.
An immersion suit could allow someone to survive for about 36 hours in cold water, though that window had lapsed by Monday.