'I can't do this': Men refused to leave sinking ship, NTSB says
The National Transportation Safety Board says the two men who lost their lives on a ship that sank near the Aleutian Islands over a year ago were not properly prepared for emergencies.
On Dec. 6, 2016, the former crab boat Exito was hauling cargo for Trident Seafoods from Dutch Harbor to Akutan when it was struck by a wave and began to sink with two crewmembers and three contractors on board.
The day before the ship sank, the acting manager for Trident Seafoods asked the captain to transport the contractors to Akutan for work. After the boat left the dock, the captain later learned they were not directly employed by Trident.
During the seven-hour voyage, "the Exito was pitching with wave heights about 10 feet," according to the captain. As waves came up over the starboard rail, the deckhand walked down the unsubmerged port side of the deck and said, "everything was floating."
As the ship began to sink by the bow, the captain said he tried to pump out as much water out of its tanks as possible.
"Additionally, the pre-departure effort of emptying the 10,000-gallon forward ballast tank lowered the center of buoyancy, while adding cargo to the deck raised the center of gravity relative to the vessel's keel; both action decreased stability," the report read.
The captain then sounded the vessel's emergency alarm and instructed everyone to put on their immersion suits.
According to NTSB’s report, as the ship was sinking, the captain tried to assist one of the contractors who had trouble getting his immersion suit zipped up. When conditions got worse, the captain said they needed to get upstairs, but the contractor replied, “I can’t do this.” One of the other contractors “locked up” and chose to stay on deck, the report said.
The two crewmembers and the surviving contractor got onto the vessel's liferaft and were rescued shortly after by a nearby good Samaritan fishing boat. The NTSB says the two men who stayed on the sinking vessel died and were never found.
In the report, the captain told NTSB he and the deckhand had briefed everyone on the boat with some safety instructions, including the location of the immersion suits, life rafts and radio beacon. However, the captain failed to instruct the men to try on the suits for size and where to find alternate emergency exits.
The NTSB says inadequate preparation for an emergency contributed to the deaths.
"During the safety briefing, immersion suits should be donned to ensure proper fit and familiarity with instructions," NTSB said.
The NTSB determined the probable cause of the sinking was progressive flooding from an undetermined location.
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