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Coast Guard Hearings on Sunken Crab Boat Begin with Owner's Testimony

David Wilson, owner of the fishing vessel Destination, describes his work history during preliminary questions at a hearing into the loss of the vessel and crew at the Henry Jackson Federal Building, Aug. 7, 2017. (U.S. Coast Guard photo/Amanda Norcross)
David Wilson, owner of the fishing vessel Destination, describes his work history during preliminary questions at a hearing into the loss of the vessel and crew at the Henry Jackson Federal Building, Aug. 7, 2017. (U.S. Coast Guard photo/Amanda Norcross)

The FV Destination went down Feb. 11 amid tough winter weather that included snow, wind gusts of more than 39 mph and seas of more than 12 feet, according to information presented Monday as the Coast Guard began two weeks of hearings into the crab-boat sinking that killed six crew.

Such conditions generate freezing spray that coat a vessel with ice, adding weight and increasing the risk of capsizing.

But in testimony as the leadoff witness in the hearing, David Wilson, owner of the 98-foot, Seattle-based boat, said Destination Capt. Jeff Hathaway had dealt with freezing spray many times. And he had always pulled through.

"He was very capable and knowledgeable, " Wilson said of the skipper he hired to run the boat. "I had total confidence in his decisions."

In the past, Wilson said that Hathaway knew when to slow down the vessel and focus on removing the ice. Then, the crew would chip it away with baseball bats and other tools.

At the Monday hearing, Wilson spoke publicly for the first time about the loss of the vessel and crew. He thanked the Coast Guard for three days of searches to try to find signs of the crew, and noted that he has a son currently fishing in Alaska.

Wilson, who lives in Edmonds, spent hours responding to a wide-range of questions about his own experience in the Alaska fisheries and the lost vessel and crew.

Wilson grew up in Sand Point, Alaska, where the Destination is registered. He started fishing at the age of 8 in salmon harvests and had years of experience in skippering boats in the crab harvest. For the past 23 years, Hathway has run the Destination, with Wilson offering shore-side support.

Wilson said the boat was put in dry-dock for maintenance every other year, and he did not note any major safety concerns about the Destination.

During the crew's last February port-of-call at Dutch Harbor, Alaska, Wilson said the captain reported a slight leak in an area around a shaft. That had been remedied by snugging up a few bolts, according to Wilson.

Wilson did not speak to Hathaway after the vessel left Dutch Harbor on Feb. 9 en route to start a snow-crab harvest. The vessel went down early on the morning of Feb. 11 several miles off the Pribilof Island of St. George, where it has now been located on the sea bottom.

In the days ahead, the risks posed by the chill, winter weather are expected to be explored through testimony from the crew from other vessels, as well as a National Weather Service official.

--This article is written by Hal Bernton from Seattle Times and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.