Owner of Alaska crab boat thought of Scandies Rose as unsinkable

Jan 6, 2020, 2:26 PM
Alaska crab boat...
Authorities suspended their search Wednesday evening. (KIRO 7)
(KIRO 7)

The owner of an Alaska crab boat that sank on New Year’s Eve, leaving five crew members presumed dead, said he never could have predicted the tragedy from a vessel that had been described as “a battleship.”

The F/V Scandies Rose, which was managed out of Seattle, sank suddenly near Sutwik Island, off the coast of the Alaskan Peninsula. Two crew members were rescued by the Coast Guard from life rafts; the other five were not found. Two of the lost crew members and one of the survivors were from Washington.

Dan Mattsen, who owns the Scandies Rose with two other partners, said he is still processing what happened.

“This has hit home in a way you can’t even describe,” he said to KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.

Coast Guard suspends search for 5 missing fishermen

Mattsen was on a different fishing boat that night, traveling from Kodiak Island to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands. After calling his wife to wish her a happy New Year, he went to bed and turned off his phone notifications.

When he awoke, it was to messages of condolence.

Just days later, Mattsen is still coming to grips with losing five men he looked at as family members.

“I cannot begin to convey just how sad I am with losing my friends and my crew,” he said.

A ‘battleship’ of a crab boat

The sinking came as a shock, as Mattsen had previously thought of the crab boat as unsinkable. It was referred to by people in the industry as the “tank” of the fleet.

“The boat had tremendous amounts of stability … People can’t wrap their heads around the Scandies Rose going down because it was so stable,” he said. “It could carry so many pots, it could carry so much crab. It was just a tremendously good platform to fish crab on.”

Mattsen is not speculating about the causes of the accident, leaving that to the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board instead. He noted that the seas were especially treacherous and icy that night.

“I’m just hopeful that they can come to something definitive,” he said of the investigation.

A member of the industry for over four decades, Mattsen knows very well the risks that come with Alaskan fishing, where waves are high, winds are forceful, and temperatures are biting. Over the years, Mattsen has had friends who have lost their lives at sea.

“We’ve made tremendous improvements in safety, but still, it’s a very harsh environment, and I don’t think you can protect from all dangers,” he said.

A video (warning: explicit language) posted to YouTube by a surviving crew member criticized the condition of the safety equipment aboard the crab boat, specifically the life rafts and their emergency kits.

“I think the YouTube video … did kind of throw me under the bus, throw the ownership under the bus,” Mattsen said. “And I just think we need a little more nuanced interpretation of what happened.”

He explained that the boat owners send the life rafts to a repacking station, where experts pack them with emergency gear, such as flares.

“We have nothing to do with that … we never, ever — God willing — see the inside of a life raft,” Mattsen said.

He added that the YouTube video was made just two days after the sinking, when the crew member was in the midst of the grief, shock, and trauma of the accident.

Right now, Mattsen is focused on giving support to those the two surviving crew members, and to the loved ones of the five victims.

“If you are in the maritime industry, your crew is considered family — you’ve got to take care of them with a very high duty of care,” he said. “So that’s our goal right now, is just to figure out how to make everybody as whole as possible after this ordeal.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Owner of Alaska crab boat thought of Scandies Rose as unsinkable