Search for fishermen suspended

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BOSTON – The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search Monday for four fishermen missing for more than two days in frigid waters off Nantucket, saying rescuers had exhausted all chances to recover the crew of the Lady of Grace a day after the boat was found submerged.

“It is beyond probable, beyond possible that they could still be viable and have survived at this point,” Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Pat Cook said at a press conference in the fishing hub of New Bedford, 59 miles south of Boston.

The boat’s captain Antonio Barroqueiro and crew members Rogerio Vendura, Mario Farinha and Joao Silva were aboard the Lady of Grace, a 75-foot commercial dragger built in 1978 and owned by Santos Fishing Corp. of New Bedford.

Barroqueiro was from Fairhaven. Ages for all the men and hometowns of the others were not released. All were presumed dead.

People who answered calls to listed telephone numbers for Barroqueiro and Farinha declined to comment, and attempts to contact relatives of Vendura and Silva were unsuccessful. Jaime Santos, the registered owner of Santos Fishing Corp., did not return calls from The Associated Press.

On Sunday, Coast Guard emergency crews used underwater cameras and sonar to detect the sunken fishing boat, and divers positively identified the vessel lying on its port side in Nantucket Sound, 11 nautical miles from the island.

An inflatable life raft – the crew’s best chance for survival – was in its case and attached to the boat. The boat had cold water survival suits in the wheelhouse, and investigators will try to determine if the crew had time to put them on before sinking, Cook said.

“Even in a survival suit, you can only survive in water that cold for a few hours,” Petty Officer Etta Smith said.

“This vessel was missing for perhaps as long as since Friday night.”

The temperature in the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Cod Monday was 35 degrees.

Divers hoped to reach the boat Monday to investigate what caused it to sink, after being delayed by safety concerns Sunday night.

They also plan to search the cabin for any crew members who may have remained aboard, Smith said.

The investigation also would look at safety precautions on the Lady of Grace and weather conditions.

The Coast Guard also is investigating a report relayed Monday that a boy on a flight Saturday from Hyannis to Nantucket spotted a body floating in the water, Cook said.

Early Monday, Coast Guard officials and New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang met with relatives of the missing mariners and told them the search would be called off.

The three-day rescue effort included 27 individual searches, covering 6,300 miles with two Coast Guard cutters, three smaller boats, a Jayhawk Helicopter and a jet from the Cape Cod Air Station.

The boat 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 the 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.

Earlier this month, the Coast Guard had to tow the Lady of Grace to safety after it became disabled near Nantucket.

But Coast Guard investigators said the Lady of Grace maintained a current safety registration and was certified at a Fishing Vessel Safety program in New Bedford last year. Inspectors from a Coast Guard cutter boarded the boat on Jan. 8 and found no violations, Petty Officer Luke Penneo said.

New Bedford, a historic whaling port that still relies heavily on the fishing industry, has witnessed numerous winter shipwrecks.

On Dec. 20, 2004, five of six crew members of the Northern Edge, a scallop boat based in New Bedford, died when the vessel sank off Nantucket in 8- to 10-foot seas and 30-degree weather.

It was the deadliest fishing accident off New England since the 1991 sinking of the Gloucester-based Andrea Gail, the shipwreck that killed six crewmen and inspired the book and movie the “Perfect Storm.”

“The dangers faced by those who make their living from the sea are of course well known within the industry,” U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said in a statement. “But this sad event reminds us of all the risks our fishing boats face every time they go out.”

AP-ES-01-29-07 1706EST

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