The Northwest’s busiest fishing port grew somber for a few minutes Wednesday as a bell tolled last watch for the six men killed two weeks ago when the Northwest Mariner capsized in the Bering Sea.
“We can say, `Here’s a shoulder, here’s a hand,”’ the Rev. Malcolm Unseth told the families of the crewmen at a brief memorial service at Seattle’s Fishermen’s Terminal attended by at least 250 people, including many fishermen and their wives. “Whatever it takes, how can I help you?”
More than a few fishermen dabbed at their eyes with handkerchiefs pulled out of back pockets. Others held their work caps in their hands as scriptures were read and hymns sung. Many left bouquets at the monument that lists fishermen killed at sea.
This spring, six more names from the Northwest Mariner will be added to the monument: Jim Foster, Larry Johnston, Bruce Forde, Rob Olson, Troy Collins and Bob Petersen.
The men were known as an experienced crew, skilled at the trade of harvesting crab and in the ways to stay safe in the unforgiving waters of the Bering Sea.
Their boat sank in fierce weather north of the Pribilof Islands on the afternoon of Jan. 15. Two crewmen were found in a life raft, but other fishermen were unable to revive them. The two were later identified as Petersen and Collins.
The remaining four crewmen were lost at sea.
Since then, six funerals have been held. The Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board have launched investigations. But officials at both agencies hold out little hope of finding a cause of an accident that left neither witnesses nor a vessel.
In the Seattle area, the families of the dead men have tried to deal with their loss. The effort is made all the harder for some by the unanswered questions in the sinking of the Northwest Mariner.
“We’re never going to know why or what happened,” said Kristen Johnston, wife of Larry Johnston. “There’s never going to be a body. There’s no real closure.”
“It’s like my soon-to-be 12-year-old asked me,” added Chris Forde, wife of Bruce Forde. “`Where will we go to talk to Dad. Where’s our gravesite, Mom?”’
The family members may not have been prepared for the tragedy. But they are fishermen’s families, wise enough to realize the dangers that come with the job.
“He knew the risks. It was something he dearly loved. I knew the risks as well,” said Rebecca Foster, whose husband, Jim, was the skipper and part owner of the Northwest Mariner. He was a fisherman for at least 15 of his 37 years.
“Jim is in his rightful resting place. At least his body is,” she said.
The families are also used to the months when their husband or father is gone.
“I didn’t expect my husband home until March,” Johnston said. “It’s not like he came in the door every day at 6.”
“It’s real hard to accept that they are gone, that the last goodbye was the last goodbye,” Forde said.