Katmai hearing reconvenes in Seattle

SEATTLE – The Marine Board of Investigation hearing into the Oct. 22 sinking of the fishing vesel Katmai reconvened at the Jackson Federal Building here Monday.

Members of the board heard testimony from several witnesses:

Greg Thurston, a vessel surveyor for M A Stream & Associates Inc., testified to examining the Katmai. He reported no disrepancies with the vessel.

John Banister, a former Katmai engineer, described the layout and design of the vessel. He also described his experience working aboard the Katmai.

Alex Vigil, a former Katmai crewmember, gave an account of how the vessel handled heavy weather. Vigil claimed to have witnessed minor flooding and a few engineering malfunctions aboard the Katmai during his time aboard the vessel in 2007. He also stated several experienced fishermen left the vessel citing a lack of faith in the ship’s master.

Martin Morin, a part owner of the Katmai, related the recent history and port visits of the vessel. Morin received email from Captain Henry Blake III, the Katmai’s master, prior to the vessel’s sinking. In the email, Captain Blake mentioned heavy weather was approaching the Katmai.

George Vernon, a welder who worked on the Katmai during its last port call in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, testified to working on a section of the refrigeration system. In the process of his work, Vernon explained he had cut a whole into the vessel’s lazarette so that refrigreration equipment could be replaced .

Reynaldo Rubalcaua, a crewmember aboard the fishing vessel Courageous who spotted an empty liferaft after the Katmai’s sinking, described the condition of the raft when it was found. He also told the board about flotation devices, a survival suit and other items retrieved from the water nearby. Rubalcaua stated the raft did not appear to be fully inflated.

Martin Teachout, a Coast Guard fishing vessel examiner who inspected the Katmai in December 2007, told the board the vessel had no discrepancies during his visit.

Paul Schwitters, a vessel stability expert who performed a stability review of the Katmai in 2007, discussed his involvement with the vessel. At the time of his stability assessment, he determined the Katmai met safety and stability requirements.

Brian Hough, of Puget Sound Inflatables, was questioned about the liferafts used by the Katmai. Puget Sound Inflatables serviced and supplied the rafts to the vessel. Using photos of the rafts as references, Hough described their proper operation.

Phillip Stromstad, a former Katmai engineer, criticized the decisions of Captain Blake during his tenure aboard the vessel during July 2008. He also pointed out his belief that the stability plan for the Katmai was in error and might cause the vessel to ride poorly on the water.

Anne-Marie Morris, a former Katmai crewmember, gave testimony to the day-to-day operations of the vessel. Morris also spoke of the stability of the Katmai and of how the vessel often rocked heavily.

The board will examine the evidence it has gathered and may reconvene at a future date. No date or location has been set for any future testimony.

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