Two 19-year-old deckhands who left Cowichan Bay on the Arctic Fox II for a commercial tuna fishing expedition say safety concerns and red flags prompted them to abandon the mission a week before the boat capsized off the coast of Washington Tuesday, killing two people including the skipper. One fisherman, who was found floating in a life raft, was rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Members of the fishing community have confirmed that Capt. Tom Lindberg is one of the men who died.
Raymond Dixon and his twin brother Anthony, both from the Nanaimo area, had never been on a commercial fishing boat but they responded to a job ad and met Lindberg the day before the 20-metre vessel left Cowichan Bay Marina on Aug. 2.
When he got onto the 73-year-old boat, Dixon said the beams in the galley had rotted and the cables of the stabilizers, which reduce a ship’s roll in wind or waves, were corroded.
“You could tell it was an old boat, it didn’t have updated gear, stuff like that,” he told the Times Colonist.
He said the lifesuits were so old, he and his brother had to wax the zippers to make sure they would do up.
The brothers sailed with the boat to Victoria, where Lindberg made an overnight stop to replace a hydraulic pump that blew, Dixon said.
“I didn’t know what was wrong with the boat,” he said. “My brother said when [Lindberg] fired the boat up it was smoking and doing all this stuff.”
In Victoria, Dixon and his brother met the boat’s owner, Larry Teague, who told them they have to keep an eye out for boats because Lindberg’s eyesight was poor. Dixon believes Lindberg was in his early 80s.
Dixon said neither he nor his brother was asked if they had commercial fishing experience when they were hired as deck hands. Dixon said the joke in the industry is that often the only question asked is whether one can swim.
He said Teague told them if they made it through the season they would get a bonus.
Lindberg said the vessel would be leaving Victoria at first light on Aug. 4.
“That’s when we got our gut feeling that nothing was right,” Dixon said. “My brother Anthony said I don’t have a good feeling about this, I think we should leave.”
Dixon said the two left just before midnight on Aug. 3 while Lindberg was sleeping. The skipper called them the next morning and Dixon offered to help him find a new crew but eventually, by noon, Lindberg told him he’d found two new deckhands.
Dixon said when he heard news the vessel had capsized, he was shocked.
“I’m glad we listened to our gut feeling.”
In response to the allegations by Dixon, the company that owns the boat, Teague Fishing Corporation, said: “We can not comment at this time while the investigation is ongoing however we deny the accusations of the twins and deny any wrongdoing whatsoever.”
It said the company is “co-operating with the ongoing investigation regarding the loss of the Arctic Fox II. We are grieving the loss of crew aboard the vessel and extend our heartfelt condolences to the families.”
The Transportation Safety Board is investigating what caused the Arctic Fox II to take on water and capsize early Tuesday morning about 136 kilometres offshore of Cape Flattery, which is just south of Port Renfrew.
Dixon said he was confused when he heard the boat was in U.S. waters because Lindberg told them the plan was to fuel up in Ucluelet and then head 130 kilometres west from there.
“That wasn’t the plan to be fishing in U.S. waters so that’s a bit weird,” Dixon said.
At the time the vessel began taking on water, the wind was blowing at 25 to 30 knots, with three- to four-metre waves and a water temperature of 13 C
The B.C. Coroners Service said the deceased men were flown to Victoria where a coroner took jurisdiction of investigating the deaths. The coroner is not releasing the identity of the men.
One of three men on board sent out a distress call around 2 a.m., telling the U.S. Coast Guard that the 20-metre vessel was taking on water and the men planned to don survival suits and abandon ship.
In October 2006, Lindberg and another crew member survived after their boat capsized 220 kilometres west of Cape Disappointment, Washington. The two were rescued by U.S. Coast Guard after spending two hours floating in a life raft in five-metre swells.
Lindberg and a young crewman sent out a mayday shortly before abandoning their 14-metre wooden fishing boat named Silver Bear, as it was taking on water. Rescuers credited the crew’s emergency preparedness, as they were equipped with flares, a satellite telephone and emergency radio beacon. Lindberg was a part-owner of the Silver Bear, which was moored in Cowichan Bay.
Boats in the Cowichan Bay Marina were flying their flags at half mast Wednesday to pay respects to the two fishermen who died. Lindberg was a long-time member of the Cowichan Bay Fishermen’s Wharf board of directors.
Guy Johnston, a veteran fisherman working out of Cowichan Bay, said Lindberg is an experienced and long-time fisherman.
Lindberg and Teague have been friends for 40 or 50 years, Johnston said.
“He’s good friends with the owner of the boat, so it’s a pretty tragic,” said Johnston. “He knows the sea well and knows about fishing.”
Despite the accident taking place in U.S. waters, the Transportation Safety Board is investigating because the vessel and crew were Canadian. The safety board is gathering information and will decide on the type of investigation that needs to be conducted, according to a spokesperson for the federal agency.
WorkSafe B.C. is also investigating.
The B.C. Coroners Service said their fact-finding investigation will look to determine cause of death and, if possible, may make recommendations aimed at preventing death in similar circumstances.
The Arctic Fox II, a wooden troller built in Scotland in 1947, was a long-time fixture in the Cowichan Bay Marina. It was featured in Free Willy 3 in 1997, according to FishingNews U.K.