Coast Guard Group Humboldt Bay units respond to MAYDAY

MCKINLEYVILLE, Calif. – Multiple Coast Guard units from Group Humboldt Bay responded to a MAYDAY call from the fishing vessel Sea Clipper Saturday night.

The Sea Clipper, an 82-foot fishing vessel, was fishing 13 miles off of Humboldt Bay when it suddenly rolled over and started flooding.

At 8:42 p.m., Coast Guard Group Humboldt Bay received a frantic mayday call from the Sea Clipper on marine VHF channel 16 saying, “MAYDAY, MAYDAY! Going over! 40.48N 124.32W!” Immediately after the position was passed, the radio went silent. Local Coast Guard units, alerted by the MAYDAY broadcast, launched several assets. The Coast Guard Cutter Dorado, an 87-foot patrol boat homeported in Crescent City, Calif., was at anchor in Trinidad Bay and was underway three minutes after receiving the call. An Air Station Humboldt Bay MH-65C Dolphin helicopter was launched and a 47-foot Motor Lifeboat was dispatched from Station Humboldt Bay. Several members of the crew aboard the helicopter were from Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco; standing duty at Humboldt Bay following Thursday’s helicopter accident.

Using the new Rescue 21 digital communications system, the Coast Guard’s communications center in McKinleyville was able to replay the initial MAYDAY call and decipher the almost unintelligible latitude and longitude broadcast during the desperate MAYDAY transmission. The direction finding capabilities of the Rescue 21 system were also able to allow the watch standers to verify that the position received during the MAYDAY call was accurate. The Coast Guard immediately issued an urgent marine information broadcast to alert other mariners to the distress. The fishing vessel Pacific Ram was in the vicinity of the position given during the MAYDAY call and headed for the scene. Also responding was the towing vessel Lion, south of the position given.

With only a frenzied MAYDAY call to go off of, and with all radio calls responding to the MAYDAY going unanswered, the Coast Guard units responded for a worst case scenario.

Nine minutes after the initial broadcast, the Sea Clipper was able to make another radio broadcast. The fishing vessel called the Coast Guard, confirmed that it was they who had made the initial MAYDAY broadcast, and then communicated to the Coast Guard the details of their situation. The master of the Sea Clipper said that he thought some of their fishing gear had snagged on the bottom of the sea floor and caused the boat to rapidly roll 90 degrees with little warning. The master only had time to issue the quick MAYDAY before the crew raced to cut away the gear that had apparently gotten caught below the surface. He also reported that the crew had donned their survival suits, the Sea Clipper had deployed its life raft, and the vessel had taken on water when it rolled and the bilge and engine room were flooded.

The helicopter arrived overhead shortly thereafter and orbited the fishing vessel while the motor lifeboat and Pacific Ram came up alongside the Sea Clipper to render assistance. The Dorado then arrived and assumed escort duties.

“The decks of the Sea Clipper were flooded when we arrived on scene, so we arranged for 47-foot MLB crew to hand over an additional dewatering pump as a precaution,” said Lt.j.g. Thomas Faulkenberry, commanding officer Coast Guard Cutter Dorado.

The Sea Clipper had successfully started dewatering its flooded spaces and was able to start making way toward Humboldt Bay. With Coast Guard units on scene, the Pacific Ram was released and the Dorado escorted the Sea Clipper to the Humboldt Bay sea buoy where Station Humboldt Bay’s motor lifeboat assumed the watch and escorted the fishing vessel to Woodley Island where she was moored at 3:20 a.m., Sunday.

The Coast Guard wishes to thank the towing vessel Lion and the fishing vessel Pacific Ram for responding to the distress. “Although the Lion was too far away to assist the Sea Clipper, their selfless response to head to the scene without delay needs to be commended,” said Lt. Todd Vorenkamp, Coast Guard spokesperson. “The Pacific Ram was on scene at the same time Coast Guard units were responding and they remained with the Sea Clipper until the situation had stabilized. As a fellow mariner, it is great to know that there are those on the ocean ready to lend a hand when others are in need.”

The Coast Guard reminds mariners that the sea is very unforgiving, and only through the courageous actions, safety precautions and diligent actions of the crew of the Sea Clipper, was a tragedy avoided.

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