GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 14, 2009

Lost lobsterman leaves wife, 5 kids in native Honduras

Coast Guard calls off search for missing lobsterman

By Richard Gaines

At the Fishermen's Memorial, whose cenotaph makes 5,368 the number "known to be lost at sea and honored here," an informal prayer service took place in the late afternoon yesterday for newcomer Jaime Ortiz.

The 5,369th fisherman of Gloucester known to be lost at sea and honored in the shadow of the Man at the Wheel statue yesterday was 43 years old, a husband and father of five children in the care of his wife back in Honduras.

Ortiz slipped off the back of the lobstering boat Dominatrix on which he had been the sternman since the summer, and was lost Tuesday afternoon within sight of the shore.

Organized within minutes after Ortiz slipped out of the reach of Dean Mould of Magnolia, his employer and owner of the 39-foot lobster boat, the Coast Guard's marathon search by sea and in the air some 2 to 3 miles beyond the Dog Bar breakwater was called off at 10:10 yesterday morning.

Ortiz death at sea was the third for a Gloucester fisherman this year; the fishing vessel Patriot was lost farther out, on Middle Bank, in the early-morning hours of Jan. 3 with Matteo Russo, the captain, and John Orlando, his mate and father-in-law, aboard.

Mould yesterday recalled the beginning of the teaming with Ortiz.

"He stopped at the boat and asked for a job," said Mould.

"He didn't swim well," said a cousin, Tranquilino Nuñez, who drove from Manhattan for the service with the family members who had settled there with Ortiz before he set off for a chance at the American dream, Gloucester-fishing-style, last summer.

His relatives said Ortiz had heard of Gloucester's reputation as a place where the willing worker could get a fishing job and earn money quickly.

Nuñez said that limitation was typical of Hondurans of the ports, as Ortiz was — they fished better than they swam.

"This was not new to him," Nuñez said.

"He was content, he was going to go home in December to see his wife and kids," said his cousin Melba Saravia, also of Manhattan.

"He was willing to help everybody, no matter what skin color, what race," said Saravia.

Mould brought long-stemmed roses to the memorial for the service, which was organized by the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives and led by the Rev. Rona Tyndall of Rockport and of the Hospice of the North Shore.

The New York contingent said it was pleased and surprised to be spared mourning alone for such a recently arrived Gloucester fisherman.

The Fishermen's Wives were represented by Nina Groppo and Ann-Margaret Ferrante, the state representative, who attempted to relieve Mould's guilt that he could not somehow get Ortiz to wrap the life-saving rope around his waist before he slipped away.

"Sometimes, our best is not enough," she said.

Along with a number of his Honduran countrymen, Ortiz had been residing at the Action Inc. shelter on Main Street after his arrival from New York. He was determined to do what immigrants from the Canadian Maritimes, Ireland, Scotland and later Portugal and Sicily have been taking turns doing for centuries — earning enough from the sea so that dependents across the sea would be able to meet up again and live in American.

Shelter manager Jim Noble said sadness pervaded the facility. Ortiz' personal handbag was at the breakfast table yesterday morning where he had sat.

"Now the dream is over," said Saravia, his cousin.

Echoing the emotions of other families whose lost loved ones at sea were not recovered, Saravia said she was crushed with the failure, despite 20 hours of searching, to find Ortiz' body.

"Now, he's ending up to have no closure," she said. "So, we're going to live with this in this way, and stay together. The pain will never go away," she said. "He worked so hard and was so brave."

The Coast Guard said its search for Ortiz covered 139 square miles and involved 10 search patterns.

Steve O'Connell, spokesman for the district attorney's office, said the failure to recover Ortiz' body means the investigation would continue into a "missing person's case" for the immediate future.

The Fishermen's Wives plan to organize a fund to provide for Ortiz' widow and children, and would announce the plan for the fund in the Times in coming days.

Richard Gaines can be reached at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com