F/V Pamela Rae on bottom on June 25, 2024, near the net pens in Anita Bay. (Courtesy/Don Spigelmyre)
F/V Pamela Rae on bottom on June 25, 2024, near the net pens in Anita Bay. (Courtesy/Don Spigelmyre)

Coast Guard Sector Southeast got a call Tuesday, shortly before 10 a.m., that the Petersburg-based seiner the Pamela Rae was taking on water in Anita Bay, located on Etolin Island near Wrangell.

The call came from the F/V Confidence, relaying a call from their sister fishing vessel Barbara which was on the scene and providing Samaritan support, said U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson Lt. Matt Naylor.

The Pamela Rae was taking on water fast and was rolling over. It had five people on board. All of them safely made it off the vessel.

A Wrangell Ranger District Forest Service vessel heard the radio and headed to the area right away.

“[Wrangell Search and Rescue] initially got a phone call from a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer who was out on his law enforcement vessel,” said Wrangell Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jordan Buness. 

“While I was talking to him, we were also dispatched via the Wrangell Police Department. We immediately started getting an airplane spooled up to head that way,” Buness said.

Buness is the owner and pilot of the floatplane Wrangell Search and Rescue deploys. 

Wrangell SAR launched the plane with two EMT-2s and their medical equipment on board and arrived on scene at 10:19 a.m., about 24 minutes after the initial call.

“When we first got there the vessel was already underwater and appeared to be sitting on bottom,” said Buness. “It was probably in less than 15 feet of water.”

“We found that everybody was already off the boat,” said Buness. “There was another Petersburg seiner that was on scene that stated he had witnessed the grounding of the vessel and kind of assisted with pulling the people off the boat and trying to get all the things situated. They got the seine skiff removed from the boat as the Pamela Rae was sinking.”

OBI Fleet Manager Don Spigelmyre commended the crew of the samaritan vessel saying, “The crew from the Barbara remained calm and did everything right as far as helping out the Pamela Rae.”

The incident all happened very quickly.

A deckhand from the Pamela Rae, Tavis Lemay, posted on social media Tuesday night, “It took 1.5 minutes for the boat to fill up with water, and at 2 minutes it rolled over. Most of us were in the focsle but made it out safely. I made it out only in my underwear. Thanks to the crew of the Barbara for the clothes and OBI Fleet Manager Don for the shoes. We were quickly in the hands of the Wrangell Search and Rescue.”

One of the crew appeared to have minor injuries and was transported via the floatplane for treatment at Wrangell Medical Center. 

“The Forest Service Law Enforcement vessel with one of our first responders on board transported the remainder of the crew,” Buness said. “We had them back to Wrangell about 58 minutes after we received the first call.

“After the situation was stabilized, the vessel was tied off to a series of net pens in Anita Bay where it remained partially sunk,” said Naylor. “I believe as the tide came up it became further and further submerged.”

Coast Guard assets did not deploy to the scene, according to Naylor. “It was a quick response by good samaritan vessels; we mainly just facilitated radio communication.”  

The response then shifted to a pollution control and salvage operation which the Coast Guard has been monitoring. 

The vessel’s insurance along with the owner have been coordinating the response via Alaska Commercial Divers, said Naylor.

“Currently there are divers on scene … they flew in some boom today. They have already plugged all of the fuel tank vents, so there shouldn’t be any fuel leaking from the vessel,” said Naylor. “Some sheening has been observed … There may still be some hydraulic oil — we don’t know for sure.”

An Alaska Commercial Divers vessel is expected to arrive Wednesday night. 

“The goal will be to contain any further pollution found at the site and then refloat and defuel the vessel,” said Naylor.

“They were able to get the Pamela Rae tied up to a log raft off of the back of the net pens,” said Buness.

The net pens belong to the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association remote hatchery release site in Anita Bay.

General Manager Susan Doherty confirmed to the Coast Guard that at the time of the incident there were no fish in the pens.

The Coast guard continues to monitor the salvage and pollution response and will be investigating further.