The families of five fishermen missing from the F/V Scandies Rose, which sank last New Year’s Eve, will have to wait at least one more month before the missing are officially declared dead, as many hearings and jury services continue to be postponed until May 31 due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The presumptive death hearing, which took place Monday afternoon and was not open to the public, marked four months since the boat sank.
The F/V Scandies Rose, a 130-foot crabbing vessel, sank near Sutwik Island and left two survivors. Neither the boat nor the bodies of the other five missing fishermen were recovered. Investigations into the cause of the sinking are ongoing.
According to Gerry Cobban Knagin, who is related to two of the missing men — the boat’s captain Gary Cobban Jr. and crew member David Cobban — the Kodiak judge presiding over the hearing ordered a tentative jury trial for June 3.
“Last night, there were a lot of tears and a lot of frustrations and then it resolved into, ‘What can we do? What actions can we take?’” Cobban Knagin said the day after the hearing.
“Almost five months ofter the boat sank, I don’t know the answer … If we have to do a jury trial, if there is nothing else we can do to change this outcome, then we hope and pray to God that the jury trial happens on the day it’s scheduled.”
The longer the families have to wait, the longer they are in limbo — without a hearing to declare the men dead, no death certificates can be issued.
The hearing had already been rescheduled several times, and Cobban Knagin said it was difficult to have to listen to the survivors’ statements over and over.
“I imagine that that’s very difficult on both of the survivors having to recount their stories again and again,” she said. “And for us having to listen to it again and again, it doesn’t make it any easier no matter how many times we hear it.”
Knagin Cobban said she does not understand the delay, noting that the fishermen who disappeared on the F/V Destination were declared dead about a month after the sinking.
The F/V Destination was a crab boat that sank in the Bering Sea in Feb. 2017, leaving no survivors.
“It prolongs the legal issues for the families in that we can’t access bank accounts, we can’t access cell phones to get pictures or anything like that without a death certificate,” Cobban Knagin said. “We would like some sort of closure, get the death certificates and let us move on.”
According to the presumptive death petition, a judge may order a jury trial if it “appears that the circumstances surrounding the disappearance ... provide reasonable grounds for believing that the missing person has suffered death from accidental or other violent means. A jury will therefore be summoned to inquire into this disappearance.”
However, Cobban Knagin said she doesn’t know why the judge chose to request a jury with the evidence presented at the hearing.
According to Cobban Knagin, evidence included affidavits from the two survivors, Dean Gribble and John Lawler, in which they said that there was only one door open — the port door — and it closed when the boat sank. The Coast Guard also provided a statement saying no bodies had been found.
Cobban Knagin said that in the survivors’ statements, “no one else came off that boat. They were outside the boat, outside that port door for a (short) period of time for minutes, maybe seconds,” she said. “No one else came out the door. It slammed shut and the boat went down.”
In the moments before their disappearance, Gary Jr. sent out a mayday call. Cobban Knagin said she went to the Coast Guard base to listen to a recording of the call in the moments before her brother and nephew were speculated to have died.
“When we listened to it, I knew exactly where my brother was and I knew exactly where my nephew was. You can hear other voices of the crew members in the background and you can hear when the boat rolls over. You can hear my brother hit the wall,” she said.
In the recording, she heard her brother and nephew complete the mayday call together before the boat went down.
“Where the radios are, and where they were, it’s on the starboard side of the vessel. They were almost underwater when they were finishing the mayday call,” she said, noting that it would have been a 25-foot climb straight up to get to “the other door.”
The boat was owned by Scandies Rose Ventures LLC, whose insurance company deployed a team to find out more about the sinking in February, but its findings were not made available to the public, the company’s lawyer said in an email to the Kodiak Daily Mirror.
Official investigation into the cause of the sinking is ongoing and led by the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation, which was convened in March.
“There’s been zero information given to the families once the Marine Board of Investigation was convened,” she said.