GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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January 27, 2009

Patriot fouled; security too late

Owner asserts tug not involved

Five days after the Patriot was mysteriously lost with its crew on popular fishing grounds 15 miles out of Gloucester Harbor, the Coast Guard moved to secure the area and keep the wreck site free of contamination.

But by then, damage had already been done to the wreck and the site.

On the day after the bodies of the Patriot crew, 36-year-old Capt. Matteo Russo and his 59-year-old father-in-law, John Orlando, were taken from the water, a New Hampshire boat trawling the popular fishing grounds where the Patriot was lost and more than a dozen boats had been working in past days had its gear snagged and lost on the Patriot.

The fouling of the Patriot by the heavy industrial fishing components — including steel trawl-doors, chains and cables — that got caught on its superstructure on the bottom and were ripped from Capt. Bud Fernandes' Rhianon Rae potentially contaminated the site in a way that could complicate efforts to understand what brought the Patriot down.

"Not until yesterday did I think about why (the Coast Guard) didn't put out a warning (about the creation of the hazard immediately after the recovery of the bodies)," Fernandes said in a telephone interview.

It wasn't until a Jan. 8 Boston news conference that Capt. Gail Kulisch, commander of Coast Guard Sector Boston, announced a no-trespass safety zone around the site, a cylinder above the wreck 1,000 yards in diameter.

The problem for the Coast Guard, Patriot family interests and insurance investigators posed by the snarling of the Rhianon Rae's gear emerged in the more than four hours of videotape shot Friday by commercial fisherman and amateur photographer Bill Lee.

He was commissioned by the lost fishermen's families and given permission by the Coast Guard to do the first underwater examination of the wreck, which lays on its starboard (or right) side in 104 feet of water.

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