Salvaged Families Fear Owner Will Put it Back to Sea

By Staff
The Standard-Times

NEW BEDFORD – Now that the Cape Fear has been raised from the ocean floor, the families of two crewmen who died when the ocean quahogger went down in January fear the vessel will be sent back to sea.

The families of Steven Reeves and Paul Martin, the two crewmen who died when the 112-foot vessel sank 3.5 miles southwest of Cuttyhunk on Jan. 8, say they believe returning the boat to service is akin to desecrating the men’s graves.

“My folks, they would rather not see it at all come up,” said Dennis Martin, Paul Martin’s older brother. “They would rather just have it stay just where it lay.”

Mr. Martin said seeing the vessel again dredging for ocean quahogs off the coast of New Bedford would be a painful reminder of the tragic accident that took the lives of his 35-year-old brother and Mr. Reeves, 28.

But he admits to mixed emotions about the Monday night raising of the Cape Fear, which is now anchored 2 miles offshore.

“It will give us, hopefully, some more clues about what happened that fateful night of Jan. 8th,” Mr. Martin said.

Cape Fear owner Warren Alexander has not divulged his plans for the boat, but several waterfront sources expect him to return the Cape Fear to fishing. An employee at Atlantic Shellfish Co., where Mr. Alexander operates four other ocean quahog boats, said Tuesday that there was no one there who could respond to questions.

Roger Judge, president of Fairhaven Shipyard and Marina, where the Cape Fear is expected to be hauled, yesterday said the owner’s intent is to improve the boat and return it to service.

Coast Guard investigators will be examining the vessel to try and figure out how it sank, plunging its five-man crew into frigid water off Buzzards Bay.

Mr. Martin’s body was found the following day off a Dartmouth beach, but Mr. Reeves was never found.

Mr. Reeves’ mother had hoped her son’s body would be found under the Cape Fear when it was recovered, Mr. Martin said.

“She had a lot of hope that the kid was caught underneath the boat,” Mr. Martin said. “It doesn’t put them at ease.”

“The families are very upset over the raising of the vessel,” attorney Carolyn Latti, of Latti Associates, the law firm representing the two families in a $12 million lawsuit against the boat owner, told The Standard-Times yesterday.

“One is that it is considered a grave,” she said. “But more importantly, they’re taking the vessel and putting it back fishing.”

“Here we have a situation where this vessel, even though there had been this terrible tragedy at sea, will be able to go back out again,” she said.

She did say the boat’s salvage might contribute new information about the cause of the sinking, and her law firm will have its own experts examine it once it is ashore.

She also said the media interest in the tragedy also made it hard on the families.

“It’s very hard to see it constantly in the news,” she said. “A lot of them try to avoid seeing it.”

James M. Kendall, executive director of the New Bedford Seafood Coalition, who spent 32 years at sea as a fisherman and skipper, said many boats lost at sea go down in much deeper waters than the 78 feet the Cape Fear sank in, and the logistics of raising them often make it impractical.

He was uncertain whether the boat’s history would discourage fishermen from going aboard as crew members in the future.

“I would probably be concerned, unless there was a real definitive cause for the sinking – if you can lay blame on something that went wrong and then fix it,” said Mr. Kendall.

Hearings earlier this year explored a number of issues, including whether the Cape Fear was overloaded, whether a hatch cover left partially open caused the flooding, and whether the crew practiced proper safety procedures.

Capt. George Matthews, executive officer for the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office in Providence, who is conducting a one-man board of inquiry into the casualty, is expected to reconvene hearings once the Cape Fear has been surveyed and inspected.

A report with conclusions and recommendations will be issued later, according to Coast Guard Lt. Dawn Kallen.

In May, the families of Mr. Martin, of Fairhaven, and Mr. Reeves of New Bedford, filed wrongful-death lawsuits against the boat’s owner Atlantic Shellfish Co. of Cape May, N.J.

In separate lawsuits filed in federal court in Boston, the Martin family is suing for $5 million, and the Reeves family is asking for $7 million. The families claim the boat was not seaworthy and that the two fishermen suffered before their deaths.

The Coast Guard convened a task force to investigate the shipwrecks, and has recommended that Congress pass safety measures such as mandatory licensing, drug tests and safety training.