A year after the sinking of the Maine fishing boat, lawsuits near decision – but questions remain

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Next Tuesday, it has been exactly a year since a Portland-carried fishing vessel, the Emmy Rose, sank off the coast of Massachusetts, with all four crew members now presumed dead.

Also potentially in a few days, a federal judge is expected to rule in a case involving lawsuits brought by the families of crew members.

The Emmy Rose, an 82-foot groundfish dredger, sank in the early morning hours of November 23, 2020, about 25 miles northeast of Provincetown, Massachusetts. There was no distress call from the vessel, only a signal at 1:30 a.m. the boat’s emergency radio beacon, a device that activates automatically when a boat sinks.

After responding and combing over 2,200 square miles of sea – about the size of Delaware – the US Coast Guard ended their search for survivors the next day. The ship’s captain, Robert Blethen Jr., of Georgetown, was lost aboard the Emmy Rose; Jeffrey Matthews, of Portland; Michael Porper, of Gloucester, Mass .; and Ethan Ward, from Pownal.

No member of the crew has ever been found and no cause has yet been determined for the sinking.

Courtesy / Boat Aaron & Melissa

Maine-based fishing vessel Emmy Rose sank on November 23, 2020.

However, in May, a team led by the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board used side-scan radar to locate the Emmy Rose, lying on the seabed under 800 feet of water. In September, investigators inspected the ship with a remote control vehicle and took photos and videos to help find a cause.

These photos were released last week and the NTSB said the investigation was continuing. Its length is not unusual. The murderous sinking of the fishing vessel Andrea Gail in 1991, which became the subject of the book and film titled “The Perfect Storm”, has sparked more than two years of investigation.

A judicial settlement is looming

Ashore in Maine, the owner of the Emmy Rose asked a federal judge in January for exemption from all legal liability following the sinking.

Boat Aaron & Melissa Inc., based in Westbrook and owned by Bartley McNeel and Rink Varian, claimed the vessel was “seaworthy, watertight, strong, strong and fit,” according to the record filed with the district court. American from Maine.

Such a request is standard in maritime disasters. An 1851 law limited the total liability of shipowners in the event of an accident to the value of the ship after the accident. Shipowners often proactively use the law to protect themselves from claims that may arise later.

The families of each crew member responded to the request for limitation of liability, with personal representatives for Blethen, Matthews, Porper and Ward disputing the claims of Boat Aaron & Melissa and seeking unspecified damages. Since February, the case has made its way through the court system, as dozens of petitions, filings and orders have been filed.

Courtesy / MIND Technology

Side-scan sonar in May captured this image of the Emmy Rose on the seabed.

By July, however, representatives for the four men reached a tentative deal, in which the heirs would share a $ 1 million insurance policy settlement on the Emmy Rose. This amount would be reduced by the cost of attorney’s fees and allocated based on factors such as the age of the heirs, which together include six minor children and three adults.

The joint agreement was filed with the court last month. If approved by Judge John Woodcock, the settlement would protect the owners of Emmy Rose from any further liability claims.

Lawyers for the estates of the four crew members and the ship owners declined to discuss details of the case with Mainebiz on Monday. But Stephen Koerting, who represents Matthews’ estate, said a decision “could come at any time.”

“The current step is similar to waiting for a jury to return from deliberations,” he said.

Meanwhile, the fishing community and many in Maine and across the country reacted to the tragedy. A crowdfunding campaign organized last year by Rosalee Varian, daughter of co-owner Rink Varian, also raised $ 133,000 to help the families of deceased fishermen.

On Tuesday, Rosalee Varian said, “On behalf of the Varian family, we would like to send our thoughts and prayers to those who lost a loved one during the tragedy… We also want to thank the community for their continued support. Seeing the number of caring and eager people to help has been extremely heartwarming.

“It will be a loss that will be felt forever.”

Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, also commented on the one-year approach: “Fishing is unfortunately one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States and this sad anniversary is a stark reminder of the risks that fishermen take to support their families, their communities and help us feed us all. “


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