EASTPORT, Maine — A combined state, federal and local team will be on the waters of Cobscook Bay today in an effort to find out what happened to several fishing vessels that have gone down in the area recently.
The team, which includes representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Maine Departments of Marine Resources and Conservation, the Maine State Police, the Lubec Fire Department and the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, as well as several local companies, spent much of the day Monday readying four vessels from the Marine Patrol, Coast Guard and a local pilot boat that will participate in the search.
“It’s because of all the accidents and deaths we’ve had up there,” said Bob Peacock, a local pilot who helped organize the search. “In the last 10 or 12 years there have been four, maybe five boats that have gone down in the upper reaches. We’ve had too many tragedies up here. We don’t want any more.”
Marine Patrol Officer David Dent raised the concern about the high number of deaths in that region and proposed finding a way to do something about it, according to Peacock. Given the number of accidents in a fairly small area, Peacock said there was some speculation that they could have something in common.
In March, the fishing vessel All American went down quickly in Cobscook Bay, killing the captain, Loren Lank, 53, of Lubec, and deckhand Logan Preston, 19, of Roque Bluffs.
On Oct. 20, Bottom Basher, a 34-foot urchin dragger out of Lubec, sank with three fishermen on board. Searchers found the body of Daryl Cline, 41, of Lubec. The boat’s owner, Joe Jones, 29, of Trescott and Norman Johnson, 57, of Cutler remain missing.
The project will use NOAA high-tech imaging sonar to search the area near Falls Island and Leighton Point where debris from the urchin dragger Bottom Basher was found two weeks ago.
“I’m behind this 100 percent,” said Jeff Jones of Trescott, whose son Joe went down with his vessel last month. “I hope they find what they’re looking for. It’s good that people did care enough to come up and search. I’m hoping it’ll provide some closure for us and for a lot of other families as well.”
According to Michael Annis, an NOAA physical scientist, side-scanning sonar will create images of the seafloor. This specific equipment uses a high frequency to get high-definition images that could help to locate Bottom Basher and possibly other vessels that have gone down.
The equipment has a limited scanning range, covering a 100-meter swath on each pass, but it will provide high-quality images of the bottom, Annis said.
“We usually use it to run scans for nautical charting,” he said. “Now, we’re going to use it to try to find a vessel on the bottom.”
Annis said his role in this mission is very specific: to find the vessels. Any additional information gleaned from that will be up to the authorities, he said.
While finding the vessels is the main goal, according to Peacock, finding them also may provide information that could help authorities determine what happened, he said. Because the sonar equipment will be mapping the bottom of the bay, it may identify obstructions that might have been a factor in the accidents, he said.
According to Peacock, the project has become a community effort, put together since last Thursday with some federal help — including assistance from U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s office — but also with the assistance of local agencies and businesses which have provided gear for the four vessels that will be involved in the project, from generators and the boats themselves to a heated trailer and portable toilets.
“It really has been a team effort,” Peacock said. “Everyone has done what they could to get this team here.”
This type of operation can be difficult in such a small, close-knit community, said Marine Patrol Lt. Alan Talbot. The people involved in the search know the fishermen and their families, and many of the people in the community are related to or know the fishermen well.
“It’s always difficult when you know the people and when you’re dealing with the relatives,” Talbot said. “It’s really difficult in light of the fact that there have been two catastrophes in the past seven months. It’s up to us to determine the causes; we’re the ones in the uniforms. But it’s not always that easy.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has allocated three days for the search. The area that it can cover will be determined largely by tides and weather. The primary search area will be near Falls Island and Leighton Point near where debris from Bottom Basher was found. That area and the area near Reversing Falls can be treacherous.
“The most difficult part of the project is going to be dealing with the tides,” Talbot said Monday. “[In] the primary location, near where the Bottom Basher went down, there’s a lot of tidal current.”
The search will be made more difficult by the fact that there was a full moon Monday night and tides are expected to run as high as 24 to 25 feet.
The search was expected to begin today and to wind up on Thursday, weather permitting.