The Emmy Rose, outbound from Gloucester Harbor in Massachusetts on Sept. 29. Photo by Robert Serbagi

The Coast Guard has confirmed the identities of the four missing fishermen from Maine whose vessel sank off the coast of Massachusetts early Monday.

The four men aboard the Portland-based Emmy Rose were first identified by News Center Maine (WCSH/WLBZ) on Tuesday evening as Jeff Matthews, Ethan Ward, Michael Porper and Robert Blethen. Petty Officer Amanda Myrick confirmed their identities late Tuesday and said that Blethen was the captain of the vessel owned by Rink Varian.

Wyrick was unable to provide the men’s ages or hometowns, though all four men, based on their Facebook pages, appear to live in Maine. Porper may have ties to Gloucester, Massachusetts, as well.

The 82-foot Emmy Rose and its crew were on a multiday trip to catch groundfish such as haddock, pollock and flounder. They left Portland late last week and were believed to be heading to Gloucester, Massachusetts, to unload their catch when they ran into trouble early Monday. Coast Guard Petty Officer Ryan Noel told The Associated Press that the crew did not make any sort of Mayday or distress call, indicating they had little time to react to the emergency.

The Coast Guard First District Command Center in Boston received an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon signal from the Emmy Rose at 1:30 a.m. Monday, indicating the vessel was about 22 nautical miles northeast of Provincetown, Massachusetts. At the time, 30-knot winds were churning up 6 to 8 foot seas in that area.

After the emergency notification was received, the Coast Guard launched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew and the Cutter Vigorous to search for the Emmy Rose, but searchers found only debris and an empty life raft in the area where the vessel’s emergency beacon activated after it came in contact with water.

The Cutter Vigorous continued searching overnight Monday and an HC-144 Ocean Sentry fixed-wing aircraft from Air Station Cape Cod took off at first light Tuesday.

Coast Guard officials suspended the operation at 5:22 p.m. Tuesday after a search that lasted 38 hours and covered about 2,066 square miles.

“The decision to suspend a search is never an easy one. Our crews conducted searches continuously for over 38 hours covering an area of approximately 2,066 square miles,” Captain Wesley Hester, the search-and-rescue mission coordinator for the Coast Guard’s First District, said in a statement Tuesday night. “We extend our condolences to the friends and loved ones of these fishermen during this trying time.”

The Coast Guard deployed two cutters, a Jayhawk helicopter, a fixed-wing aircraft and 47-foot motor lifeboat in the wide-ranging search.

 

Varian, the boat’s owner, has not responded to interview requests from the Press Herald.

The federal fishing permits for the Emmy Rose are held by Boat Aaron & Melissa Inc., which is based in Westbrook. Filings with the Maine Secretary of State list Bartley McNeel of Westbrook as the president of the company.

McNeel’s company, Boat Aaron & Melissa Inc., owned the boat Aaron & Melissa II, which sank 70 miles south-southeast of Portland in November 2018 during a storm with gale-force winds. All four crewmembers abandoned ship and entered an inflatable life raft. They were later rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter.

McNeel did not respond to an email from a reporter on Tuesday.

The Boston Globe reported the Emmy Rose was carrying  45,000 pounds of pollack, haddock, and redfish in its hold, which was within the ship’s capability.

“They were making their last trip before Thanksgiving,” Nick Giacalone, the co-owner of the Fisherman’s Wharf Gloucester, told the Boston Globe. Fisherman’s Wharf was where the Emmy Rose was expected to dock around 7 a.m. Monday to offload its catch. “Then this had to happen.”

Giacalone said the crew was experienced, the 33-year-old ship was well-maintained and the vessel had all of the safety gear – immersion suits, radios, flares, lifeboat – that the crew would have needed to escape a sinking boat.

“I don’t think it’s anything to do with (seaworthiness) or maintenance or lack of maintenance,” Giacalone told the Boston Globe. “Whatever triggered it happened fast, and it was totally unexpected … some freak accident happened. That’s really the only thing it could be.”

Matthews’ daughter, Reyann Matthews, told News Center Maine on Monday that last she heard the crew was doing some welding on the boat as it was taking on water.

The captain and crew members are all experienced fishermen who have worked on the Emmy Rose and other local boats, said Alan Tracy, president of Vessel Services, a fishing industry supplier in Portland.

“This boat was very much a part of our fishing community here on the Portland waterfront,” he said. “The crew, captain and owner are all well known to us and everyone on the Portland Fish Pier.”

The steel-hulled Emmy Rose was built in 1987. The Boston Globe reported that the Coast Guard had inspected and approved its condition and safety equipment in August.

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