Crabbing Vessel Capsizes in the Bering Sea

Alaska FACE AK-95-01
DATE: April 18, 1995


The 106-ft crabbing /processing vessel, F/V Northwest Mariner, capsized in the Bering Sea on January 15, 1995. The stricken vessel was able to send only a brief mayday call, but other vessels in the vicinity immediately responded. A life raft with two people on board was located. However, they were both hypothermic and could not be revived. Four other crew members were unable to be located and are presumed to have been lost. Weather may have been a contributing factor in this incident. A 40 knot wind and 24 foot seas were reported at the time of the sinking.


It was not possible to physically visit the incident site. U.S. Coast Guard records and media reports were reviewed to evaluate possible factors that may have contributed to this sinking. A marine engineer was consulted and other sources familiar with crew safety training were interviewed.

The F/V Northwest Mariner was a 106-ft crabbing/processing vessel of 192 gross tonnes. The vessel was based in Seattle, Washington. All six crew members were from the Seattle area. The crew were planning to fish for opilio crab, and the opilio crab season opened approximately two hours after the incident. The Northwest Mariner was part of a four vessel private company operating from Washington State.

Weather conditions forecast during the response to the incident scene were as follows:

Visibility: 2-4 nautical miles

Wind: Northeast, 35-45 knots with gusts to 50 knots

Seas: Northeast, 15-20 feet

Air Temperature: 30 degrees F

Water Temperature: 38 degrees F

Wind Chill Factor: -15 degrees F


The crabbing/processing vessel, Northwest Mariner, transmitted a brief mayday call at 2:12 PM on January 15, 1995. The circumstances of the emergency were not included in the message; however, a position report was received (58.30 North, 173.51 West). This position is approximately 120 nautical miles northwest of St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea. Several other fishing vessels heard the distress call and relayed the message to the U.S. Coast Guard in Kodiak. A Search and Rescue (SAR) mission was immediately instituted by the Coast Guard. Commercial fishing vessels on the scene within an hour found a life raft with two unresponsive crewmen on board. CPR was initiated, but the victims were unable to be revived. Air-sea rescue of the remaining four crewman was instituted, and an EPIRB signal on 243.0 MHz was detected. However, these crewmen were not located and are presumed to be dead. The two victims located were wearing light clothing (no survival suits), and are believed to have possibly been sleeping at the time of the incident. The overturned vessel was located and identified as the F/V Northwest Mariner.


Two crewmen died due to hypothermia. Four other crewmen have not been located, and are believed to have died from hypothermia or drowning.


Recommendation #1: All fishing vessel crew should be cognizant of the extreme danger associated with heavy deck loading (e.g., crab pots stacked on deck), improper “tanking” (distribution of fuel, fresh water, and product) combined with vessel icing in northern waters.

Discussion: Although this incident was not witnessed, several vessels and the U.S. Coast Guard reported severe icing conditions in the area of the incident. The vessel also had crab pots stacked on the deck in preparation for the upcoming opilio crab season. Combined with the adverse weather conditions noted at the time of the incident, the probability of a roll-over due to vessel instability is significant.

Recommendation #2: All fishing vessel crew should have practical training in the donning of immersion suits, and participate in regular emergency drills for abandoning ship. All crew should be trained in emergency radio procedure, and in the early recognition of vessel stability problems.

Discussion: Although the crew of the Northwest Mariner had received marine survival training, and were reportedly a safety-conscious crew, it is still important to remember key factors for survival in Alaskan waters.

  • Because vessel instability can lead to very quick vessel roll-overs, the early recognition of a developing instability problem is critical in preventing such incidents.
  • All crew should practice donning a survival suit and have immersion suits stored for easy access. Even if the suit must be donned while in the water, some protective value can be obtained. Survival times in typical Bering Sea weather conditions is significantly less than one hour, unless a survival suit is correctly worn.
  • All crew members should practice emergency drills prior to the need to actually abandon a vessel.
  • All crew members should be capable of sending a distress message, if called upon to do so. Familiarity with proper radio procedure increases the likelihood that a complete distress message can be delivered under adverse circumstances.

To contact Alaska State FACE program personnel regarding State-based FACE reports, please use information listed on the Contact Sheet on the NIOSH FACE web site Please contact In-house FACE program personnel regarding In-house FACE reports and to gain assistance when State-FACE program personnel cannot be reached.

Page last reviewed: November 18, 2015