Read this article from Maritime Executive, then read my comments at the end.

[I]Thursday, April 29th, 2010

The captain of a commercial fishing vessel that sank off the coast of Alaska is being called a hero for saving the lives of crew.

To hear of captains racing off a ship to save their own lives first; such as Captain Yiannis Avranas, who pushed past elderly passengers to get on the first helicopter while leaving about 170 passengers aboard the floundering Greek Liner, OCEANOS; or when the Egyptian captain, Sayed Omar, abandon the 11,800 ton ferry “al-Salam 98,” which was on its way from Duba to the Egyptian port of Safaga, allowing an estimated 700 passengers to die. These are acts of cowardice in the first order!

But, when the 75-foot fishing vessel NORTHERN BELLE went down in the Gulf of Alaska about 50 miles south of Montague Island, Captain Robert Royer made the ultimate sacrifice. Royer saved his crew of three when he somehow managed to send out an out an emergency distress signal to the US Coast Guard. Then, seconds later, the captain fell overboard as the vessel began to capsize. According to the crewmembers, he did not surface.

The crew swam around in the ocean for more than three hours until finally the US Coast Guard air crews arrived. According to the survivors, the ‘Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon’ did not emit a signal, which meant that Royer’s split decision to send a final emergency call to the Coast Guard saved his crew’s lives.

Without his efforts the Coast Guard would have not had the location of the fishing boat and all the crew would have perished in the frigid waters of the Gulf of Alaska. The crew owes a huge debt to the captain, who proved himself a hero in more ways than one.

Captain Robert Royer our thoughts go out to you, because your heroism has not gone unnoticed.[/I]

My comments:

My most sincere condolences to the family of Captain Robert Royer. This was a tragic event and nothing will bring back their lost loved one.

That being said, though, I find some of the wording in the article offensive. Captain Royer was not a hero. Not even close.

While I am gratified that Captain Royer was able to get a distress signal out, I have to ask where was he when the vessel was overloaded? A hero would have said, “hell no, that’s too much stuff onboard, I’m not taking it.” Where was Captain Royer when the EPIRB was supposed to be checked quarterly? A hero wouldn’t have left the dock without ensuring his safety equipment was in good order.

A real hero does the hard right things and saves lives not by reacting the way we are supposed to in an emergency, but by not putting those lives in an unnecessarily risky situation in the first place.

Where did you read that the vessel was overloaded? The capsize could very well have been caused by a breach in the hull and the subsequent free surface effects and tipping moments. The EPIRB could very well have become trapped by the vessel when it capsized. Sure, they’re supposed to be in a position where they can float free but think about the EPIRB on you vessel and I’m sure you can come up with a scenario where it becomes trapped.

IMO there’s not enough infomation in this article to warrent judging a captain who sacrificed his life to send out one last MAYDAY call which saved the lives of his crew.

The captain himself believed the vessel was overloaded and it was a discussion between the whole crew at the beginning of the voyage.

I’m not gonna say the guy was or wasn’t a hero as everyones definition of a hero is different. Personally I would have kept a ditch bag with clothing, provisions and a hadheld VHF. I wouldnt need to be in the wheelhouse as the boat went down. Also, a simple “Mayday Mayday Mayday This is F/v ‘whatever’ in position XXXXXN XXXXXW we have X people onboard we are going down. We are taking to the liferaft with all hands accounted for and no injuries.” then GTFO of the boat. This guy fell into the CG’s long line of bullshit questions about “what color are your underwear” and “who was your third grade teacher”. Fuck that. Give them your info and get the hell off. Everything is recorded at the Com-sta so as long as they acknowlege your mayday then to hell with the rest. The crew also said he was trying to save his dog. I love my dog too, but if he’s down in the hull and the boat is goin down he’s on his own. No since in dying for a dog. They have plenty of them at your local pound.