- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

BOSTON (AP) — The Coast Guard yesterday called off its search for five fishermen lost at sea when their scallop boat capsized in cold, turbulent water off Nantucket, Mass.

The presumed deaths of the five crewmen on the Northern Edge, which sank Monday afternoon, could be the worst loss of life aboard a single vessel at sea in New England since six crew members aboard the Andrea Gail died in 1991 — an event described in the book “The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea” by Sebastian Junger and a film.

Rescue teams searched an 1,850 square-mile area for more than 40 hours, several times longer than the eight hours a man can survive in the 47-degree water, said Coast Guard Capt. David Spillman.

One Northern Edge crewman survived after being grabbed from the frigid water by another scallop boat.

The presumed deaths sparked anger among boat owners and fishermen, who said federal rules that cut fishing days and penalize fishermen who leave fishing grounds early force captains to fish in dangerous weather to take advantage of limited opportunities.

“You’re taking the skipper out of the wheelhouse and putting lobbyists and congressmen in the seat, making decisions for you,” said Kevin Mello, a New Bedford, Mass., fishing boat owner.

Federal regulators, who cautioned against assigning blame before facts in the sinking were known, said penalties ensure fishermen don’t exceed catch limits in restricted areas. The regulators also said new rules where the Northern Edge went down — called the Nantucket Lightship area — are more lenient than ever.

Scallop dredging is regulated tightly in the Northern Lightship area to protect stocks of vulnerable fish that swim near the ocean floor, such as cod.

Earlier yesterday, the sole surviving crewman, Pedro Furtado, spoke with Coast Guard officials for the first time about his harrowing experience.

Mr. Furtado stayed aboard the Diane Marie until it arrived before dawn yesterday in New Bedford, where he was interviewed by Coast Guard officials. He appeared to be in good health, said Tony Alvernaz, captain of the Diane Marie.

Mr. Alvernaz said Mr. Furtado had endured about a half-hour in the water, some of the time without a shirt.

The crew member was tossed from his lifeboat two or three times by the waves but managed to climb back aboard the life raft each time before crew members of the Diane Marie saved him, Mr. Alvernaz said.

“I’m in awe over this man,” he said. “He was fine.”

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