The 10-day public hearing about the sinking of the F/V Scandies Rose began Monday with the testimony of one of the vessel’s primary owners.
The 130-foot crabber sank just off of Sutwik Island at 10 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2019, on its way to fish king crab. Of the seven crew members, just two survived. Two of the deceased were from Kodiak: the boat’s Captain Gary Cobban Jr. and his son David Cobban.
The virtual hearing, aimed at considering evidence related to the sinking of the Scandies Rose, is taking place in Edmonds, Washington, but is being livestreamed each day starting at 7 a.m. Alaska Standard Time (https://livestream.com/USCGinvestigations/events/9427626).
At the beginning of Monday’s session, audio was played of the captain’s last words — a mayday call with alarms and the voices of crew members audible in the background, followed by a lost connection.
During the first four hours of the hearing, investigators from the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board interviewed the vessel’s owner, Daniel Mattsen.
In his testimony, Mattsen detailed the boat’s prior safety inspections, the company’s hiring practices and what he was doing on the night the F/V Scandies Rose sank.
He highlighted the expertise of the fishermen on the boat.
“To fish on the Scandies meant you were in the big time. We caught a lot of opilio. It was a good, solid boat,” he said.
Mattsen said he would warn new fishermen, called greenhorns, about the work, but not for the crewmembers of the Scandies. They were typically very experienced, he said.
“The work is wet, it's hard, it’s monotonous, it’s long hours. … It's really not a life for many people,” he said.
He told the panel that although Cobban did not have a captain’s license — because he was colorblind and could not pass the physical examination portion of the test — he knew what he was doing.
“Gary has been running boats since he was 16 years old,” Mattsen said. “Gary couldn't get a license because he was colorblind. ... Other than that, he had no problems as a captain.”
Mattsen said he owned crab quota shares with four other people, including Cobban, who only had 6% of the quota. Mattsen also runs the F/V Amatuli, which primarily works as a tender transporting fish.
On the day of the sinking, Mattsen was running the F/V Amatuli. He had left Kodiak on Dec. 28 and arrived in Dutch Harbor three days later. He spoke to Cobban two times that day.
During their first conversation, Cobban called him after the Scandies Rose left town, letting him know he was just outside of Whale Pass, still in the Kodiak Archipelago, and that he was on his way to the fishing grounds in the Bering Sea.
During their second conversation, Mattsen was on his way to Dutch Harbor. Mattsen said he saw cargo ships “bucking” and was concerned about whether he could cross Unimak Pass, on the Aleutian Islands, in such treacherous weather.
Cobban advised him to take a different route to bypass Unimak Pass altogether.
Mattsen arrived in Dutch Harbor around 11:30 p.m. and went straight to sleep, setting his alarm for 7 a.m.
But at 5 a.m. his phone went off. Thinking it was his alarm, he went to wake up the crew, but upon realizing it was too early to begin the day, he looked at his phone and saw message after message expressing condolences about the sinking.
In a daze, he called his wife and Geila Cooper, the manager of the F/V Scandies Rose, who were camping.
He then began making calls and was soon on a plane out of Dutch Harbor to handle the aftermath of the sinking.
Mattsen said that when he had spoken with Cobban earlier, the captain did not sound concerned and did not mention anything about the performance of the vessel.
“He just said the weather was foul,” Mattsen recalled.
During the testimony, investigators also dug into issues related to repairs and tests that were done to confirm that the boat was structurally sound.
The Scandies Rose had been reviewed for stability in May 2019, “as a matter of prudence,” two years after another vessel, the F/V Destination, sank after being covered in thousands of pounds of ice.
The review concluded that the F/V Scandies Rose could carry 208 835-pound pots. Mattsen recalled Cobban telling him that the vessel had 192 pots on board.
Investigators noted that in the stability instructions there were few mentions of icing, an event during which ice accumulates on the boat and equipment. Mattsen said he has experienced ice accumulations of 1 inch per hour during wintertime in the Bering Sea.
During such times, crew members typically break off the ice with heavy tools. However, the amount of ice that reaches a level that would cause a ship to sink depends on the size of the vessel, how it is built and the length of travel, Mattsen said.
He said that Cobban had not taken vessel stability training.
Mattsen also noted that if the vessel had been taking on water in the empty crab tank, Cobban would have felt it.
The boat also had a marine surveyor review the boat to determine whether it was being properly maintained for insurance purposes.
However, repairs that had been done to part of the boat in the shipyard in Seattle had been done “poorly,” Mattsen said.
In a series of text messages that Cobban sent Mattsen two months before the sinking, Cobban complained about repairs that were made in Seattle, noting that leaks in the starboard chute were allowing water into the vessel. The leaks were later repaired in Kodiak.
The Coast Guard and NTSB also reviewed the monthly drills that the boat conducted, which included donning a survival suit — getting into the suits in a minute or less — radio distress calls and abandoning ship, among several others. The crew members had conducted the drills at 6:34 p.m. on the day of the sinking.
Monday’s testimony ended after the panel also questioned the manager of Scandies Rose LLC, Geila Cooper, and minority owner of Scandies Rose LLC and insurance broker of Northstar Insurance Services.