An as-yet-unexplained incident at Bodega Bay last week, in which a 30-year-old crab fisherman lost his life, has become a focal point after allegations that the US Coast Guard allowed the deceased’s drifting vessel to run aground. The 42-ft commercial fishing vessel, Seastar, washed up onto Kehoe Beach, a reminder of other boats that are often left adrift after a rescue or other operation at sea.
We spoke with Bodega Bay fisherman Tommy Bailey, who had earlier been on the radio with the deceased and told us more about what happened, and about the community’s concerns.
The incident began on Thursday night when the captain of the Seastar, Ryan Kozlowski, was out crabbing. A few other commercial boats were also in the area, and the captains would check in with one another on a regular basis. Tommy told us that at around 8 p.m. the other boats were calling it a night and that Ryan had said he would check a few more pots before returning to port. The next morning the fishermen realized that Ryan had not returned to shore.
The Coast Guard reports that when their boat crew arrived on scene at around 10:15 a.m., the Seastar was unmanned and adrift near the rocks. They then began searching for the vessel’s captain.
“He’d been fishing in around 27 fathoms of water,” Tommy said. “He was experienced, a master mariner. He’d stopped running tugs in Alaska to come down here and fish.”
Tommy told us that other fishermen were also in the area searching for Ryan, and that some had tried to board the Seastar to stop it from running aground. One mariner had already made it aboard and was told by the Coast Guard to get off the vessel.
“They were not allowed to recover the boat and bring it back to port.”
When Ryan’s body was recovered, it was transported to Sonoma for a positive ID. The Coast Guard and partner agency vessels remained on the scene until it was confirmed that they had found the Seastar‘s captain. The vessel itself remained adrift during this time.
“The guys are super-disgusted,” Tommy said. He claims that if they had been allowed to board the drifting vessel it could have been saved, rather than becoming a wreck on the beach.
USCG spokesman Brandon Giles said, “The Coast Guard’s initial decision not to tow the vessel was made because there was a possibility of the missing fisherman being entangled in the crab pot lines.
“The Coast Guard remained in an active search stance until a positive ID of the body was confirmed by the Sonoma County Coroner. During that time a second Station Bodega Bay boat crew was launched to attempt to tow the Seastar, but the boat crew discovered the Seastar had drifted and ran aground.”
“Why didn’t they just drop the anchor, tie the boat off?” Tommy added. “Save everyone a huge headache.”
While mourning the loss of one of their own, the Bodega Bay fishing community, which Tommy described as “tight,” is rallying to help Ryan’s family by salvaging what they can from the boat and the fishing equipment.
“He had insurance,” Tommy said. But the boat itself is now worthless, a result that the locals believe could have been avoided.
“They need to be held accountable,” Tommy added, and referred to a previous incident involving the the 90-ft American Challenger, which was wrecked north of Dillon Beach after it broke free from its towline and was not recovered. The Point Reyes Light wrote, “It took nearly 10 months for a review to determine that the removal could be funded by a federal oil spill trust, during which time the Challenger sat derelict on a rocky and inaccessible stretch of shoreline.”
Ryan, whom Tommy referred to as “the kid,” had been running Seastar for around three or four years. “I saw him just last week.”
Ryan’s death is under investigation. In the meantime the Seastar has been pilfered for what can be sold, and the rest is being demolished and removed from the beach. Though, allegedly, not before some fuel had leaked from her battered hull.
Richard James, an Inverness resident who advocates for state legislation to prevent oil spills, told Point Reyes Light, “I would like to see the Coast Guard have a public meeting and explain what happened.” James’s words echo those of the Bodega Bay fishing community. “We’re just so disgusted,” Tommy repeats.
Bodega Bay fisherman Dick Ogg has created a GoFundMe page to honor Ryan’s “life and spirit” and “offset the loss of his vessel and support his family.” He is aiming to raise $20,000. The fund, which appears to have been started two days ago, has already raised over $14,000 — further testament to the nature of the small community that Ryan called home.
Friday, March 4, 1:10 p.m.
We have received the following from USCG spokesperson Brandon Giles in response to our question as to why the Coast Guard had not deployed Seastar‘s anchor:
“The Coast Guard Station Bodega Bay boat crew had never seen or used an anchor system like the one aboard the commercial fishing vessel Seastar to drop an anchor. The boat crew did not drop the anchor on the Seastar before shifting to a search and rescue stance because they did not know how to safely and effectively operate the anchor system onboard the Seastar.”