Rescuers find missing fishing boat submerged

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BOSTON (AP) – The Coast Guard said Sunday it has discovered a fishing vessel missing since Friday night submerged in 36 feet in Nantucket Sound. All four crew members were still missing.

The Lady of Grace’s one life raft was found still in its case and attached to the boat.

Coast Guard rescuers said it appeared unlikely the crew would be found alive in the frigid waters, but they would continue their search. The life raft was the crew’s best chance for survival, rescuers said.

Divers from the Massachusetts Law Enforcement council positively identified the vessel lying on its port side 11 nautical miles north of Nantucket, the Coast Guard said in a statement.

“It doesn’t look good,” Coast Guard spokesman Benjamin Benson said earlier in the day.

The 75-foot dragger was last heard from Friday night. It was supposed to return to New Bedford Harbor at 5 a.m. Saturday after the Coast Guard warned of rough weather, cutting a planned eight-day trip in half.

The crew from another fishing vessel communicated with Lady of Grace by e-mail until 10 p.m. Friday, then contacted the Coast Guard when the other boat failed to reply to the last e-mail.

Coast Guard officials concentrated their search on the area where the boat’s transponder was last heard, about 11 miles north of Nantucket.

Searchers had spotted an oil sheen on the surface of the water and some small wood chips and debris nearby on Saturday. Officials used underwater cameras and sonar Sunday to detect the sunken fishing boat. Divers later confirmed the find.

The Coast Guard identified the crew as Antonio Barroqueiro, Rogerio Vendura, Mario Farinha, and Joao Silva. No ages or hometowns were released. Officials from the Coast Guard said they were in contact with family members. The wait for news was agonizing.

“The last thing I said to him is ‘Don’t worry, it’s too cold, you’re going to be right back,”‘ Vendura’s daughter Jennifer Petrao told New England Cable News on Saturday. “I still think it’s a bad dream and I don’t think it’s real.”

Twenty-five individual searches have been conducted since Saturday morning using two Coast Guard cutters, three smaller boats, a Jayhawk Helicopter and a jet from the Cape Cod Air Station. The search has covered 6,000 square miles, including the area where any life boat would have drifted.

The Coast Guard said weather was favorable for a search, and they would continue looking for any sign of the four men. The fishing vessel was required to have both a life boat and survival gear.

At the time the boat went missing, winds were blowing at about 25 to 30 knots and there were 8 to 10 foot seas.

“Clearly it was extremely cold and icing conditions were severe,” Benson said. The trip had been cut to four days because of the conditions.

Searchers said they couldn’t speculate on what happened, but said it is very easy for fishing boats to become coated with ice and top heavy in the winter, making it easier for them to capsize.

Benson said the Lady of Grace was owned by the Santos Fishing Corporation of New Bedford. No phone number for the company was found.

Earlier this month the Coast Guard had to tow the Lady of Grace to safety after it became disabled near Nantucket. The crew called the Coast Guard early in the morning on Jan. 9 to say they were without power and drifting.

The winter months have proved deadly to fishing communities along New England’s rocky coast.

On Dec. 20, 2004, five of six crew members of the 75-foot Northern Edge died when the boat sank off Nantucket in 8- to 10-foot seas and 30-degree weather, with winds gusting to 45 knots. It was the deadliest fishing accident off New England in nearly 15 years.

In 1991, six crew members of the Gloucester-based Andrea Gail died in what was later dubbed the “Perfect Storm.” The tragedy was recounted in a book and film of the same name.

“We’ve been through this so many times before in the last 150 years,” said state Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford. “At first there’s hope and prayers, and then hope begins to fade.”

AP-ES-01-28-07 1650EST

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