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What Sank the Alaska Juris? Coast Guard Moves Forward With Lost Trawler Investigation

Nov 16, 2016

Crewmembers abandoned the F/V Alaska Juris after it began taking on water on July 26. Investigators with the U.S. Coast Guard will interview witnesses at public hearings in December.
Credit U.S. Coast Guard District 17

It's been four months since the F/V Alaska Juris sank in the Bering Sea, and the U.S. Coast Guard is still trying to figure out why its engine room flooded, forcing 46 crewmembers to abandon ship near Kiska Island.

Lt. Rven Garcia leads the investigations division for Coast Guard Sector Anchorage.

He said investigators have scheduled two weeks of public hearings in Seattle to determine why the 220-foot trawler went down.

"Since the sinking, the investigation team has identified witnesses and developed theories as to what caused it," said Garcia. "So the hearing is a kind of public forum to interview those witnesses and fully explore those theories."

Those theories won't be made public until the hearings in December. Neither will the names of the witnesses. But Garcia said there's a reason the interviews are happening in Seattle.

"That's where the vessel was home-ported, the owners are home-ported there, and a lot of the crewmembers are from Seattle," he said.

If investigators find the flooding was caused by human error or wrongdoing, the Coast Guard can impose fines or take action against mariners' credentials. Garcia said it's hard to predict how much the investigation will reveal, because they can't examine the sunken vessel.

"That is a challenge for us," he said. "Witness testimonies are going to be really important for this case, so we can get an insight as to what the condition of the boat was and what the overall work climate of the boat was."

The Alaska Juris was owned by The Fishing Company of Alaska (FCA).

Another FCA ship sank and killed five people in 2008, while the National Transportation Safety Board determined the company failed to maintain a third vessel when it caught fire in 1995. The company did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Witness hearings will begin on Dec. 5. The Coast Guard is working to finish the investigation by July.