Rain drops gather on a ball cap with the name of the crab fishing boat Scandies Rose, a 130-foot crab fishing boat from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, that sank on New Year’s Eve 2019, as the hat rests near some flowers and a fishing float at the Seattle Fishermen’s Memorial on Jan. 2, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, file)

Rain drops gather on a ball cap with the name of the crab fishing boat Scandies Rose, a 130-foot crab fishing boat from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, that sank on New Year’s Eve 2019, as the hat rests near some flowers and a fishing float at the Seattle Fishermen’s Memorial on Jan. 2, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, file)

‘We are rolling over’: Edmonds survivor recounts boat tragedy

The inquiry into the Bering Sea sinking of the Scandies Rose crab boat openened with a mayday call.

By Hal Bernton / The Seattle Times

Through the buzz of airwave static, a voice can be heard giving coordinates in the Gulf of Alaska. Then four chilling words: “We are rolling over.”

This nighttime Dec. 31, 2019, mayday transmission from the Scandies Rose, a Washington-managed crab boat, was played Monday morning as the Coast Guard launched two weeks of public hearings to investigate the sinking that took the lives of five of the seven crew.

The Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation is the highest level of inquiry into accidents, and the schedule includes testimony from the vessel’s co-owner, two survivors, former crew, naval architects and people involved in repairs. It will result in a report that is expected to point to a probable cause of the sinking, as well as come up with recommendations on how to improve safety in the Alaska fleet that joins in winter harvests for snow and king crab.

The public hearings at the Edmonds Center for the Arts in the days ahead also will include testimony from the two survivors of the Scandies Rose — Dean Gribble Jr., of Edmonds, and Jon Lawler, of Anchorage. They have already given harrowing accounts to reporters of scrambling to the wheelhouse, donning survival suits and preparing to abandon the rapidly sinking and severely listing vessel around 10 p.m. They said a big wave knocked them off the boat.

“I was just floating alone in the dark for a half an hour, getting tossed in those waves … You are so small out there,” Gribble said in an interview last fall with The Seattle Times.

Cmdr. Gregory Callaghan, the board chair, in an earlier interview said the investigation is exploring a range of issues that could have contributed to the sinking while the crew sought to journey from Kodiak in south-central Alaska to Bering Sea fishing grounds off the Aleutian Islands.

The weather forecasts that night called for heavy freezing spray — a condition that causes ice to build up on crab pots and hulls, and can make a boat more likely to capsize. The investigation is examining the role that ice might have played in the sinking. The board is also looking into Coast Guard regulations that guide the development of reports by naval architects that detail how a boat should be loaded.

In testimony Monday, Dan Mattsen, a co-owner of the Scandies Rose, said that the regulations assume a much lower buildup of ice than often occurs in the winter waters off Alaska. “They are totally unrealistic,” Mattsen said.

The investigators will also look for mechanical or other problems the vessel may have experienced, according to Callaghan. One issue scrutinized during Monday’s hearing involved leaks in the area of a discard chute on the vessel. The leaks caused trouble in 2018 that prompted a patch. There was another repair, involving contract welders, during a 2019 Seattle stopover. But the leaks were still not fixed as the crew in Kodiak prepared for the 2020 season.

“I thought this has been repaired in shipyard,” texted the deceased skipper, Gary Cobban Jr., in a message displayed during the hearing.

Cobban Jr., a Kodiak, Alaska, resident and a part-owner of the boat, then hired a maritime welding company in Kodiak to do additional repairs, according to Mattsen, the first witness to testify in the hearing.

Mattsen got news of the sinking of the Scandies Rose on New Year’s Day 2020 while he was aboard another crab boat that he had just brought to port in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. At 5 a.m. that morning, he was woken by his phone. It had “blown up” with others relaying news of the tragedy.

“It was almost incomprehensible to me,” Mattsen testified Monday.

After bobbing about in survival suits, both Lawler and Gribble eventually made it to a life raft. But their suits and the raft had no locator beacons. An emergency light in the raft eventually went out, and they feared they would never be found.

Their ordeal ended sometime before dawn, when a swimmer from a Coast Guard helicopter reached them. The challenges they faced after they went overboard also are expected to receive scrutiny from investigators.

The Alaskan fall and winter crab harvests have a perilous history.

During the 1990s, more than 70 crab-boat crew members died, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. Safety was improved by increased Coast Guard oversight of loading heavy steel-framed crab pots, and a change in the harvest system, which assures a boat a harvest share and eases the pressure on crews to work through bad weather.

From 2006 to through 2016, no crab boat went down with loss of life.

Then in February 2017, the Seattle-based Destination sank, killing all six crew, and less than two years later, the Scandies Rose went down.

In November, owners of the Scandies Rose reached a settlement of more than $9 million with the two surviving crew and families of four of the men who died.

The four men whose families were involved in the settlement were:

David Cobban, 30, Gary Cobban Jr.’s son, who also lived in Kodiak;

Brock Rainey, 47, of Kellogg, Idaho;

Art Ganacias, 50, the boat’s engineer who had lived in Sand Point, Alaska, but also many years in the Puget Sound region;

Seth “Sorin” Rousseau-Gano, 31, who lived in the Silverdale area and whose earlier fishing career included Dungeness crabbing off Washington.

Talk to us

More in Northwest

The Legislative Building is shown Friday, June 30, 2017, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Details of a new two-year state operating budget were released Friday, the same day Washington lawmakers must vote on the plan in order to prevent a partial government shutdown. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Washington Senate approves new tax on high capital gains

The measure would impose a 7% tax on the sale of stocks, bonds and other assets in excess of $250,000.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 file photo Ethan Nordean, with backward baseball hat and bullhorn, leads members of the far-right group Proud Boys in marching before the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Nordean, 30, of Auburn, Washington, has described himself as the sergeant-at-arms of the Seattle chapter of the Proud Boys. The Justice Department has charged him in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., with obstructing an official proceeding, aiding and abetting others who damaged federal property, and knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building. He asked a judge Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, to release him from detention pending trial. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster,File)
Judge orders release of Proud Boy charged in Capitol riot

The Auburn man will be restricted to home detention and must remove all firearms in his home.

55,000 in Washington may have to repay unemployment benefits

Some failed to respond to requests for information and became ineligible for money they received.

Whatcom County sees 13 new B.1.1.7 variant COVID-19 cases

Snohomish County has 2 known cases of the mutation, also called the “U.K. variant.”

A syringe of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown Thursday, March 4, 2021, at a drive-up mass vaccination site in Puyallup, Wash., south of Seattle. Officials said they expected to deliver approximately 2500 second doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the site Thursday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Vaccine eligibility to expand to more groups on March 22

Included will be workers in agriculture and grocery stores, as well as law enforcement and others.

Seattle teachers vote to stay out of classrooms

The union said it has no confidence that the district will keep educators safe during the pandemic.

Senate OKs bill for graduating students to take bridge year

Seniors also could retake classes and boost grades that may have faltered during the pandemic.

Pacific gray whales spotted in Puget Sound

They tend to congregate in waters off Whidbey Island and feed on ghost shrimp.

Cashmere mom wins custody case that straddles two countries

A Chelan County judge ruled that Saudi Arabian courts did not provide the woman with due process.

Senate OKs bill prohibiting price gouging during emergencies

Products would include building materials, emergency supplies, gasoline and health care services.

FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2014, file photo, endangered orcas from the J pod swim in Puget Sound west of Seattle, as seen from a federal research vessel that has been tracking the whales. A new study from federal researchers provides the most detailed look yet at what the Pacific Northwest's endangered orcas eat. Scientists with the NOAA Fisheries Northwest Fisheries Science Center spent years collecting fecal samples from the whales as well as scales from the fish they devoured. They say their data reaffirm the central importance of Chinook salmon to the whales. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Study: Chinook salmon are key to Northwest orcas all year

Researchers demonstrated that the while the whales sometimes eat other species, they depend most on Chinook.

Avalanche strikes Cascades backcountry, no injuries reported

The 800-foot-wide, 15-foot-deep slide struck at Source Lake in Alpental Valley on Sunday or Monday.