The deadly sinking of the Gloucester-ported Orin C nearly 15 months ago probably was caused by structural problems with the vessel’s wooden hull and subsequent flooding, according to reports from the National Transportation Safety Board and Coast Guard released Thursday.
The two reports detailed the marine tragedy that resulted in the drowning of 47-year-old Capt. David C. “Heavy D” Sutherland during the final stages of the Coast Guard’s rescue that saved crewmembers Rick Palmer and Travis Lane on the night of Dec. 3, 2015.
Neither Palmer nor Lane could be reached Thursday for comment.
The Coast Guard report did not recommend any changes to its training, rescue procedures or the equipping of its rescue vessels. That, however, does not mean it won’t make changes in the future, according to District 1 Deputy Commander Brad Kelly.
“That is something the Coast Guard is always looking at in trying to determine what should be included into all of our rescue platforms,” Kelly said. “That is an ongoing process.”
The NTSB report, however, recommended the Coast Guard at all times have at least one crewmember aboard response boats “adequately trained in the types of medical emergencies expected in a marine environment and qualified in the use of all first-aid and/or all trauma equipment carried on board.”
It also recommended the Coast Guard “develop a standard for the contents of the first aid trauma kits aboard response vessels.”
Beyond those recommendations, the two reports dovetail almost seamlessly in the account of the incident.
“On December 3, 2015, at 2018 local time, the commercial fishing vessel Orin C sank in the Atlantic Ocean about 13 miles east of Cape Ann, Massachusetts,” the NTSB wrote in its executive summary. “All three crewmembers abandoned the vessel just prior to the sinking and were recovered by US Coast Guard motor lifeboat 47259. However, the captain of the Orin C became unconscious in the water before being pulled to the motor lifeboat by a Coast Guard crewman. When examined aboard the motor lifeboat, the captain had no pulse. In response, Coast Guard crewmembers performed CPR, but he could not be revived. There were no other injuries and no reports of pollution. The Orin C sank in about 300 feet of water and was not salvaged.”
‘Critical time lost’
Other findings of the NTSB report:
** There was no evidence showing the 39-year-old, 51-foot Orin C had complied with a mandatory dockside safety inspection. Records showed it hadn’t undergone a safety inspection since 2011. There was no evidence of “any safety drills, instruction, or orientation being conducted on the Orin C” and “no record of any crewmember being certified as a drill instructor.”
** The main source of flooding aboard the Orin C was not from the slime eel fishing boat’s damaged wheelhouse windows and overhead, but from “an undetermined location in the forward part of the boat near their bunks.”
** It took 10 to 13 minutes for Sutherland and his two crewmembers to don their survival suits.
“The long period it took to don the suits was critical time lost, which ultimately led to the vessel sinking from beneath a captain and a crewmember and the need to simultaneously recover both in rough water and darkness,” the report stated.
** Palmer and Lane told investigators they thought the 5-knot speed of the Foxy Lady tow was too fast and suggested Sutherland ask the Foxy Lady to slow down. Sutherland, according to the report, never made that request.
“Concerns about the speed of the tow were never communicated to the Foxy Lady,” the NTSB report stated. “The captain of the Foxy Lady believed that the (tow) line was parting because of chafing from the Orin C deck and not the speed.”
Good Samaritan tow
The NTSB report said the first sign of trouble aboard the Orin C came about 8 a.m. when Sutherland received a high oil temperature alarm on the vessel’s main engine. He shut down the engine to investigate the problem.
The crew discovered water in the lubricating oil, which Sutherland determined would damage the engine if restarted. Sutherland radioed the fishing vessel Foxy Lady for assistance.
The Foxy Lady, owned and captained by Phil Powell of Swampscott, steamed 16 miles to help the Orin C — some through closed fishing grounds, for which it required Coast Guard authorization.
That put the Coast Guard on the case.
The Foxy Lady reached the Orin C about 11 a.m. as winds blew 20 to 25 knots and the seas rose to 4 to 5 feet, according to the NTSB.
The report said the Foxy Lady provided a nylon tow line of about 200 feet and the crew of the Orin C secured it to a forward bow post. The vessels headed west, directly into the escalating winds, hampered by repeated breaks in the tow line.
Because of power issues, the Orin C could not communicate with the Coast Guard. The Foxy Lady provided hourly updates, according to the report.
By approximately 2 p.m., seas had risen to 8 to 10 feet and winds approached 30 knots.
At nearly 3 p.m., with the vessels about 20 miles from Rockport, the Orin C was hit by a large wave that shredded the tow line, damaged the overhead and visor of the wheelhouse, and broke out two forward windows, the report stated.
One unnamed crewmember told investigators it felt as if the vessel’s wooden hull was “coming unglued.”
Moments later, Sutherland told the Foxy Lady the Orin C was taking on water and the Coast Guard dispatched a 47-foot motor lifeboat out of Gloucester.
Just after 3 p.m., the Foxy Lady and the Orin C had reconnected the towline.
Taking on water
“The Foxy Lady captain informed the Orin C captain that he would try to keep the tow light and would do the best he could to keep the stricken vessel from drifting out to sea in the westerly winds,” the report stated. “On board the Orin C, the crew used items such as cabinet doors and a seat bench to cover the broken windows and prevent any further ingress of water and sea spray.”
At 4:15 p.m., Sutherland told Powers he “had a good amount of water in the engine room” and his pumps were not working. “The Foxy Lady captain told the Orin C captain to have his lifejackets and immersion suits ready as a precaution,” the report stated.
About a half-hour later, Sutherland informed Powers water was gushing into the engine room, the starboard bilge pump had failed, and the aft bilge pump was “on and off.”
Fourteen minutes later, the Coast Guard arrived.
Because of the deteriorating weather conditions, it took the Coast Guard motor lifeboat 18 minutes to get a heaving line to the Orin C to deliver a dewatering pump.
The Orin C got the pump working just before 5:30 p.m. and the Coast Guard — using an 800-foot line — took over the tow about 6:15 p.m.
About a half-hour later, Sutherland reported the Coast Guard pump could not retain suction. At 7:49 p.m., Sutherland reported about a foot of water in the galley and his own growing concern.
At 8:02 p.m., according to the Coast Guard report, Sutherland told the Coast Guard his vessel no longer was safe.
Minutes later, the Coast Guard instructed Sutherland and his crew to don their survival suits and ordered the tow line cut.
At 8:17 p.m., the first Orin C crewmember entered the water and was recovered in less than three minutes from the 10-foot seas. Moments later, the Orin C began to sink “bow-up” and the second crewmember went into the water and was rescued in less than three minutes.
Sutherland, according to the report, also went into the water, swimming a few strokes on his back before stopping.
“The captain could be seen floating on his back with his head submerged under the waves,” the NTSB report stated. “Recognizing the captain was unconscious, a motor lifeboat crewmember, wearing a dry suit, donned swimming gear and entered the water with a lifeline. He swam to the captain and took hold of him.”
Both were pulled to the Coast Guard vessel and seven Coast Guard crewmembers helped get Sutherland aboard. At 8:23 p.m., the lifeboat reported to watchstanders that the full Orin C crew was aboard, but that Sutherland “was not breathing and had no pulse.”
The Coast Guard crew performed CPR and requested helicopter assistance. At one point, they “detected an intermittent pulse,” but soon lost it.
The helicopter, with EMT-trained personnel and an automated external defibrillator, arrived at 9:07 p.m. Unable to hoist Sutherland or put a rescue swimmer in the water with the defibrillator and EMT kit, the helicopter followed the motor lifeboat to Station Gloucester.
“It is unlikely, however, that use of an AED would have changed the outcome in this case,” the reports stated.
The Coast Guard motor lifeboat arrived at Station Gloucester about 10:30 p.m. and Sutherland was pronounced dead.
Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT