, Gloucester, MA

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January 3, 2009

Sinking of the Patriot a community tragedy

The city is mourning its latest tragedy at sea.

Two members of a Gloucester fishing family — the husband and father of Josephine Russo — were lost early Saturday morning when the family-owned Patriot, a modern, 54 foot, steel-hulled trawler fishing alone on Middle Bank about 15 miles from port, sank after an apparent catastrophic failure.

The Coast Guard recovered the bodies of Matteo Russo, 36, and his father-in-law, John Orlando, 58, after an air and sea rescue effort. Neither were wearing survival suits that the Patriot, which had been inspected a month ago, was carrying.

"When I look at the boats in the Gloucester fleet," said Times columnist, fishing author and lobsterman Peter Prybot, "this is the last one I'd ever dream would go down."

"This is a shocker, this was a perfect boat," said Angela Sanfilippo, president of the Gloucester Fisherman's Wives Association. "Gloucester has one more time been stricken."

At the center of the tragedy is Matt Russo's wife, Josephine, who is pregnant, and their three-year-old son Salvatore. Matteo Russo's parents were returning from vacation in Florida.

In a Saturday afternoon news conference at Gloucester's U.S. Coast Guard station, Sanfilippo asked the media to be respectful of the family while it grieves.

News of the tragedy moved rapidly throughout the struggling and tight-knit fishing community and cohort centers of the Ocean Nation to the north and south.

"We've heard from New Bedford and the South Shore people," Sanfilippo said. "They're totally heartbroken."

"This is a tough one," said Mayor Carolyn Kirk, who added that "all Glouceser fishing families that have been touched by tragedy share the pain."

The deaths are believed to be the first of Gloucester fishermen at sea since a Russian freighter struck the Starlight in 2001, killing two men. In all, more than 5,000 fishermen have been identified as lost at sea from the nation's oldest fishing port.

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