Rescued members of the 75 foot Fishing Vessel Blazer met with reporters and well wishers today to tell their story of crisis on the high seas and how the Coast Guard got there in time to save them.
Blazer Skipper Kelly Madden said his four crewmen sailed out through the Newport jetties shortly after midnight Saturday morning, chock full of crab pots, headed north toward Lincoln City and points north.
Madden said it was around 4am that they got into trouble. He said the Blazer was hammered by a broadside wave that lifted the boat on the port side. Madden said the next thing he knew was that the Blazer was starting to list to the starboard side and getting worse. He said his crew was down on the back deck trying to get their heavy load of crab pots over the side – trying to re-right the boat. Madden got on the Coast Guard emergency frequency and called for help. He gave their GPS location and then went back to trying to save the vessel. Madden said he ran the Blazer in a circle trying to re-right it, but to no avail.
Eventually the crew put on survival suits and launched the ship’s rescue raft. By then the Blazer was very hard to starboard and the crewmen literally slid down the port side of the exposed underside of the boat into the water. Once inside the raft they waited for the Coast Guard to get there.
Madden said three of the crew were hoisted up to the Newport Coast Guard Helo – the other two were pulled aboard a Coast Guard motorlifeboat out of Depoe Bay.
Madden praised his crew for doing all they could to save the Blazer. He said they just couldn’t free up and push the pots off the boat fast enough. Madden also heaped praise on the Coast Guard for their quick response – especially the helicopter which was on scene in 19 minutes. It took the motorlifeboat over an hour to get to the scene due to the high seas and wind. He said the quick rescue saved their lives and that they owe everything to the Coast Guard’s discipline and professionalism.
Fishermen’s Wives spokeswoman Ginny Goblirsch said it was another frightening demonstration of why the Coast Guard Air Rescue Facility at Newport should not be closed down. Goblirsch, Fishermen’s Wives, the City of Newport, Lincoln County Commission and the Port of Newport will be in federal court in Eugene next week asking for the court to order the Coast Guard to suspend their closure order on the base. They say the Coast Guard and Homeland Security Department are in violation of federal law in trying to close down the facility without going through proper procedures. They say if the judge agrees and orders the injunction, it would give Oregon’s Congressional Delegation enough time to work with the Coast Guard’s budget and find the funds necessary to keep the base open.
They say the Coast Guard’s definition of adequate safety coverage is woefully inadequate for conditions off the Oregon and Washington Coasts. They say a nationwide one-size-fits-all criteria does not work off the Pacific Northwest. They say the standards may be fine for the warm waters of Southern California and the even warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf Stream off the East Coast. People can last for hours in those waters. But off Oregon, Washington and Southern Alaska, people die in minutes due to frigid air and cold water temperatures.
Some observers strongly suggest that the Department of Homeland Security is trying to transform the Coast Guard from being a search and rescue service to that of a sea-going police force. Under federal law, Homeland Security cannot redirect the Coast Guard away from its search and rescue mission except under extraordinary circumstances. And even then, not for more than 90 days according to the Fishermen’s Wives attorney.
The federal court hearing is set for December 11th at the Federal Courthouse in Eugene.