2019年2月14日 星期四

RCP Morning Note, 02/14/2019: Silver Lining for Dems? 'Disparate Impact'; Perils at Sea


Carl Cannon's Morning Note

Silver Lining for Dems? 'Disparate Impact'; Perils at Sea

By Carl M. Cannon on Feb 14, 2019 08:50 am

Good morning, it's Thursday, February 14, 2019. At 12:15 p.m. on this date in 1983, a crewman on the Neptune Jade, a 750-foot freighter on its way to Asia, noticed a blip on his radar screen. It signified the presence of another vessel 24 nautical miles away, which wasn't unusual in that busy Bering Sea shipping lane. Except for one thing: The blip wasn't moving.

Getting no response from the ship, the captain of the Neptune Jade set a course for its location. With a storm heading their way, any disabled ship in the open sea would be in peril in those waters, which could be as cold as 32 degrees this time of year.

Three hours later, the freighter arrived to find an upside-down hull floating in the sea. Estimated at 80 feet in length by the crew, it was undamaged. Unable to get too close because of his own ship's size, the freighter captain ordered his crew to scan the area for survivors or debris. Seeing none, he tried to contact the U.S. Coast Guard and then broadcast an alert to any ships in the area to converge on the position. After 30 minutes, he resumed his course to the Orient.

Hearing the transmission, fishing boat captain Gary Howell realized he was 50 miles away. He ordered his vessel, Alaska Invader, and a sister ship, Pacific Invader, to head for the location. Forty-five minutes later, another merchant ship en route to Japan noticed an upside-down hull in the water and notified the Coast Guard communication center in Honolulu.

The coordinates provided by the second freighter were 3.5 nautical miles southwest of the first sighting -- too far to have drifted in less than an hour. As darkness settled in and the ocean became rougher, this discrepancy went unnoticed. It was first of many mistakes made in the northern Pacific Ocean that day.

For one thing, the hull of the second overturned ship was much longer than 80 feet. It had distinctive markings, too, which weren't noticed until the following morning. By then, two fishing boats, not one, were unaccounted for. They were the Altair and the Americus; each had a crew of seven when they left the Aleutian Island port of Dutch Harbor that morning.

I'll have more on this maritime tragedy in a moment. First, I'd point you to our front page, where we aggregate stories and columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer a complement of original material from RCP's staff and contributors.

* * *

Could AOC, Tlaib and Omar Be Dems' Blessing in Disguise? A.B. Stoddard writes that the party's wisest presidential candidates will reject the trio's far-left pronouncements, blunting GOP attacks on Democratic extremism.

Trump Looks to End Widely Used Numbers-Only Bias Test. In RealClearInvestigations, Paul Sperry reports on plans to pull back from an Obama-era formula for righting perceived wrongs against minorities and women.

Blocking Scalise Testimony Shows Democrats' True Colors. Herman Cain assails the majority party's refusal to let a fellow lawmaker -- and gun violence victim -- from testifying against a bill imposing background checks on gun purchases and transfers.

Trump Hasn't Kept His Promise to Reduce Drug Prices. Former Rep. Ronnie Shows argues that bolder moves on the president's part are needed to do more than simply slow the rate of price increases.

Soaking the Sick. In RealClearHealth, Robert Goldberg criticizes Democratic opposition to a Trump administration plan to limit the role of pharmacy benefit management companies in drug pricing.

A Green Light for Profligacy. In RealClearPolicy, James Capretta rejects a report from two prominent economists downplaying concerns about the nation's runaway deficits and national debt.

The Miles-Per-Gallon Illusion. RealClearScience editor Ross Pomeroy spotlights a study exposing a flawed measure of fuel efficiency.

* * *

The Altair and the Americus were half the fleet of the well-known "A-boats," state-of-the-art crabbing vessels owned by commercial fisherman and entrepreneur Jeff Hendricks. The fleet was based in Anacortes, Washington. The "A-boat" designation was a tribute to the town, a close-knit fishing community where the risks of commercial fishing are an accepted fact of life.

By the late 1970s, Puget Sound had been largely fished out. It took larger and more technologically advanced ships to go where crabs still could be found in abundance -- the wintertime waters off Alaska. A fisherman skilled enough to land a job as a crewman on one of the A-boats could make as much $100,000 in the three-month crabbing season. Doing so, however, meant braving one of the most foreboding fisheries on earth. Sub-zero weather and sudden ice storms were common in the Bering Sea, along with 60 mph winds that churn up waves as tall as six-story buildings.

Describing what such waves could do to even to a 120-ton ship, author Patrick Dillon wrote about the 1974 maiden voyage of the second A-boat, the Alyeska. "Huge ocean swells -- the size of mountains, it seemed -- carried the boat high in the air," Dillon wrote. "Suspended at the peak of each wave, with both the bow and the stern out of the water and the propeller churning nothing but air, the entire boat vibrated violently until it crashed down the slope of the wave and buried its bow in the roiling green seas."

That passage comes from "Lost At Sea," Dillon's taut, well-reported, and masterfully written account of this tragedy. Pat Dillon is a longtime friend, so I'm not entirely objective about his work. But I wasn't alone in my admiration for the book. In 2001, Coast Guard Lt. James Robertson carried a dog-eared copy of "Lost at Sea" to Dutch Harbor to investigate the sinking of the Arctic Rose, with 15 souls aboard.

Reviewing "Lost at Sea" for The Washington Post, Preservation magazine editor Sudip Bose was struck by Pat's description of colossal fishing vessels being batted around like bathtub toys. "This passage," Bose wrote, "reminds me of the grandeur of Psalm 107, which sings of the heroic seafarers of antiquity: ‘They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters. These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders of the deep.'"

The problem, however, was that on February 14, 1983, when the Altair and the Americus capsized so quickly that none of the men could even send a distress signal, let alone don their survival suits and abandon ship, the seas were not heavy.

"The sea did not do this," Glenn Treadwell told his wife as he prepared to finish out the season on another, smaller A-boat, the Alliance. "I've walked those decks. Seven-foot seas do not knock those boats over."

But something did. A two-year Coast Guard investigation and Pat Dillon's exhaustive research turned up disquieting facts. As the competition with foreign-owned trawlers increased, there was economic pressure on Jeff Hendricks to retrofit his twin crabbing boats with sophisticated new trawling gear to make them more versatile fishing vessels. These innovations had added 26 tons of weight to the boats, which the captains knew. What they didn't know is that that the ships' weight had been severely underestimated before the re-rigging. Hendricks, who had two brothers-in-law on those doomed ships, certainly didn't know it either.

In hindsight, the Altair and Americus were top-heavy, which subsequent ship designers have taken into account, just as Congress and the Coast Guard enacted regulations for crew safety in the aftermath of the February 14, 1983 disaster. But a more profound truth is present, too, one we should keep in mind while admiring the array seafood in our local grocery store: Braving the ocean is dangerous work, and always has been.

As Pat Dillon noted in "Lost at Sea," on the day those jaunty 14 crewmen sailed out from Anacortes with their friends and loved ones waving goodbye at them apprehensively, half a mile away stood a monument to the Anacortes fishermen who'd previously left those docks never to return. On that memorial, a 12-foot-high obelisk, were 96 names, all of them from the previous 50 years. It was a longer list than all the men the town had lost in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam combined.

Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)

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