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USCG: F/V Western Venture rescue highlights the importance of being prepared for worst case scenarios in Alaskan waters

Posted by PA1 Shawn Eggert, Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Anyone who has plied the waters of Alaska can attest to the many dangers facing mariners, and the rescue of five crewmen aboard the fishing vessel Western Venture, Oct. 20, has cast new light upon the importance of being prepared and the benefit of a Coast Guard presence in the Aleutian Islands.

The incessant chirping of a personal location beacon followed by a second signal from an emergency position indicating radio beacon rang out across the airwaves heralding the peril aboard the Kodiak-based Western Venture when the vessel caught fire approximately 69 miles west of Adak, Alaska. The signals were detected by Coast Guard watchstanders at the 17th District command center in Juneau who quickly alerted Air Station Kodiak personnel forward deployed to Cold Bay and issued an urgent marine information broadcast requesting assistance from any nearby vessels.

While good Samaritans aboard the fishing vessel Aleutian Beauty and crews from the Coast Guard Cutter Waesche and Air Station Kodiak rushed to the scene, the crew of the Western Venture donned their immersion suits and escaped to a life raft. To their credit, the vessel’s EPIRB was properly registered with the Coast Guard and that this small, but significant, detail, helped lead rescuers right to the vessel’s location.

“This case illustrates the importance of not only having an EPIRB, but properly registering it to provide rescuers with vital information to aid in the response,” said Lt. Colin Boyle, a search and rescue controller with the 17th District command center. “The PLB and EPIRB alerts were our first and only indication of this maritime emergency.”

The rescue of the Western Venture’s crew not only illustrated the wisdom in keeping proper safety equipment aboard a vessel and knowing how to use it, it also highlighted the value of the Coast Guard’s forward operating locations in some of Alaska’s more isolated and active maritime regions.

The forward operating locations, which are stood up during times of increased maritime activity throughout the year, allow the Coast Guard to expand and enhance our ability to respond to emergencies in Alaska’s most remote areas. The FOL in Cold Bay opened Oct. 14 with the intent of ensuring Coast Guard personnel can assist fishermen working in and around Bristol Bay, the Bering Sea and the Aleutian Islands during the winter fisheries season. In addition to responding to the fire aboard the Western Venture, personnel at FOL Cold Bay conducted two medevacs within four days of deploying to the area.

“We recognize the danger posed by the harsh Alaska maritime environment and the nature of essential work being done statewide,” said Capt. Daniel Travers, chief of incident management, Coast Guard 17th District. “Establishing forward operating locations during peak seasons of maritime activity greatly reduces the time it takes to respond to emergencies from Kodiak and allows us to save lives.”

The successful rescue of the Western Venture’s crew owes much to the timely response of the Coast Guard and good Samaritans but, without the preparedness of the vessel’s crew, responders may have had a much more difficult time locating the men. Mariners are reminded to ensure they have required emergency equipment aboard their vessels, to register their EPIRBS and to conduct emergency drills at least once a month. Vessel owners and operators are also encouraged to get their free dockside commercial fishing vessel safety exams.

Exams are available by calling Coast Guard Sector Anchorage at 907-271-6700, Coast Guard Sector Juneau at 907-463-2448 or the nearest Coast Guard marine safety detachment. More information about fishing vessel safety and the associated regulations is available at www.fishsafe.info.

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