The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Edito, Valdez Star 

Lifeboat sinks with vessel during exercise

Crew rescued from water during near shore spill drill Wednesday


Photo courtesy Randy Bell

The Belltech 5 heading out of the small boat harbor in Port Valdez.

A near-shore spill drill turned into a near miss last Wednesday after three very lucky mariners were rescued from the icy waters near the Valdez Arm.

The three crew members of the Belltech 5 were plucked out of the water by the crew of a Good Samaritan vessel, F/V Miss Jana, after the Belltech 5 began taking on water and rapidly began to sink. The crew attempted to evacuate to a Zodiak, but the lifeboat also began to sink as it remained tethered to the sinking Belltech 5 according to Lt. Allie Ferko of the US Coast Guard.

"They abandoned ship into a little Zodiak," Ferko said in an interview last week, recounting events that could have easily taken the lives of the crew. "When the boat sank it went down with the Zodiak."

According to the Coast Guard the May Day went out at 7 p.m. It was snowing with seven mile per hour winds and three-foot seas.

Ferko said the crew were wearing personal floatation devises but it was unclear if they had time to put on the suits before the ship sank in 1200 feet of water.

"Sector Anchorage issued an urgent marine information broadcast and the crew of the Miss Jana responded to the scene, rescuing the three men from the water," the Coast Guard said Thursday.

The F/V Jana had been under tow by the F/V Equinox for the sake of convenience it was later revealed, and not for mechanical reasons as first reported.

"While in transit to Valdez, the Equinox was met by a Coast Guard 45-foot response boat-medium from Station Valdez who embarked the three men and transported them into Valdez to awaiting emergency medical services," the Coast Guard said.

Two crew members were released after medical examination and one was treated at the hospital for hypothermia. The Coast Guard has not released the names of the crew members and the boat's owner, Randy Bell, did not return call seeking comment on the incident.

The Coast Guard said no pollution was reported after the sinking and that Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Valdez is investigating "potential pollution threats from the vessel, as well as the cause of the marine casualty."

The cause of the accident was not known according to Ferko.

"They didn't hit anything, that's for sure," she said.

What is sure is the fact that the crews of the Miss Jana and the Equinox saved the lives of three fellow mariners.

"We definitely appreciate the fact the boats responded," Ferko said. "It just speaks volumes for the maritime community around here."

The rest of the Coast Guard agreed.

Photo courtesy Randy Bell

The Belltech 5 in happier times before it sank in the deep waters of Port Valdez.

"The Coast Guard appreciates the vigilance and assistance of Alaska's professional mariners," Jimmy Belcher, Sector Anchorage command center operations unit controller, said in a press release Thursday. "With the help of the crew from the fishing vessels Miss Jana and Equinox, these three men are now safe on land and will be able to go home to their families."

While it is highly unlike the Belltech 5 will be seen again, the same cannot be said of the Zodiak lifeboat that went down with the ship.

Ferko said there had been reports the Zodiak had been spotted drifting after the sinking and had thus far evaded recovery efforts. The Coast Guard is asking mariners to keep an eye open for the Zodiak and if spotted, report is coordinates to the Coast Guard.


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