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In the early hours of February 11, 2017, Coast Guard watch standers for the 17th District received an EPIRB distress alert from the vicinity of St. George Island, Alaska, north of the Aleutian chain in the Bering Sea. The call came from F/V Destination, a 98-foot fishing vessel manned by a captain and five crew that was en route to St. Paul for the opilio (snow-crab) season. She had recently departed Dutch Harbor laden with 200 crab pots. In the three days that followed the distress signal, the only items recovered were a life ring, buoys, and an oil slick left behind on the water.

Six months after Destination was lost, NOAA came to the aid of a U.S. Coast Guard investigation by providing two research ships in an attempt to locate the missing crabber. The first, Oscar Dyson, is a fisheries survey vessel that failed to pinpoint the exact location but was able to substantially narrow the search field. A second NOAA ship, Fairweather, is a hydrographic survey vessel equipped with multi-beam sonar that has been used extensively in the Bering Strait for seafloor mapping exercises. On July 9 Fairweather was able to positively identify Destination in 250 feet of water about three miles off the Pribilof Island of St. George.

Multi-beam sonar image of the F/V Destination on the floor of the Bering Sea.

A 3-D image from NOAA Ship Fairweather multi-beam sonar. The profile of the F/V Destination is clearly visible lying on her port side, including the bulbous bow to the right, the forward house and mast, equipment (likely crab pots) stacked amidships, the deck crane aft, and the skeg and rudder. 

This month, a United States Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation held a public inquiry into the loss of Destination. Interviews with the ship’s owner, David Wilson, the Alaska Coast Guard station, and anyone who was with Destination’s crew during her last port-of-call have been contacted to better understand the context of the tragedy. The Coast Guard hopes to release a full report within a year of the vessel’s sinking.

F/V Destination Loaded with Pots

F/V Destination loaded with crab pots prior to the accident.

During public testimony, the vessel’s owner said of Destination’s 23-year veteran captain, Jeff Hathaway: “He was very capable and knowledgeable. I had total confidence in his decisions.” Though speculation points towards winter weather and ice accumulation on the decks of the vessel, Captain Hathaway had also reported a leaky shaft during the boat's last visit to Dutch Harbor. The leak was supposedly fixed before departure.

A life ring off the doomed vessel is one of the only items onboard that were recovered in the Bering Sea.

Destination's life ring was one of the few items that was recovered in the Bering Sea.

The Coast Guard live streamed the now-concluded hearings but have made them available for viewing here