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January 4, 2009

Mourning the Patriot

Trawler tragedy claims lives of two fishermen

As president of the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association, Angela Sanfilippo has dealt many times with tragedy at sea. It never gets easier.

"This is a shocker," she said Saturday, referring to the loss of the Patriot and the lives of two local fishermen. "This was the perfect boat. Gloucester has one more time been stricken."

The two members of a Gloucester fishing family — the husband and father of Josephine Russo — were lost at sea early Saturday 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 Peter Prybot, a Times columnist, fishing author and lobsterman, "this is the last one I'd ever dream would go down."

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, and, in the 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, however, moved rapidly throughout the struggling and tight-knit fishing community, both here and in 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 Gloucester fishing families that have been touched by tragedy share the pain."

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