Crew member fell asleep while piloting fishing boat wrecked in Cape Elizabeth in Saturday's storm
The owner of a fishing trawler that ran aground off Cape Elizabeth early Saturday morning says one of the crew members fell asleep after turning on the ship's autopilot.
"[The crew member piloting the ship] fell asleep at the wheel and then just went straight into the beach," said David Osier, owner of the Tara Lynn II and Osier's Seafood in South Bristol. "Operator error is the cause of this accident."
The Tara Lynn II is one of four ships in Osier's commercial fishing fleet. On Saturday, the ship was en route to Portland Harbor after a day of trawling for groundfish. He said what happened next was recounted to him by the ship’s captain.
"They didn't have the bridge alarm on, which is installed onboard to wake you up at certain time intervals," Osier said. The ship's autopilot then navigated the Tara Lynn II to the shallow waters.
Osier said the Tara Lynn was only doing four knots when it went up on the beach, but the tide was going out and the vessel got stuck in the sand.
The crew aboard the Tara Lynn II broadcast a mayday call at 12:30 a.m., according to the Coast Guard. First responders from Cape Elizabeth Fire Department's wet team responded during a storm with strong winds and a record high tide. The uninjured crew members were transferred off the ship.
Osier says the Tara Lynn II sustained relatively minimal damage when it initially ran aground. He had hoped to go out later in the day during high tide to safely tow the ship into deeper waters, but the storm made that impossible.
"The fishing vessel remained aground and was badly beaten up by the pounding waves and historic high tides we experienced throughout the day on Saturday," said Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Koroknay, the Incident Management Division Chief officer for the Coast Guard, which is investigating the wreck. "I don't know if you've seen photographs of it, but the bottom of the vessel is more or less completely blown apart."
The Tara Lynn II discharged 500 gallons of diesel fuel and upwards of 5,000 pounds of fish. The ship's engine fell out of the hole created by the storm. Debris from the shattered hull and onboard cargo were left scattered across Trundy Point.
The insurance company for the Tara Lynn II has hired a salvage company, Determination Maine, to clean up the wreck. Koroknay says salvage is temporarily on hold as the companies coordinate with nearby private property owners in order to access the wreck safely from land.
Meanwhile, Osier said he has not been able to contact the ship's crew since Saturday.
"I don't know why," he said. "I guess they probably feel bad. Who knows?"