Lone survivor recalls scallop boat sinking

Three fishermen were killed at sea this week in a tragedy that will be long remembered by their families and others in New Bedford.

A fourth man survived, and told his harrowing tale to WHDH reporter Jonathan Hall, who interviewed him in his hospital room where he was recovering from hypothermia.

“We took one over the stern,” said 50-year-old Ernesto Garcia, recounting how a “rogue sea” – a big wave moving in a different direction from the others – capsized the 56-foot F/V Leonardo during rough weather on Sunday.

Garcia described how he and his crewmate, 35-year-old Mark Cormier Jr., were plunged into the chilly water. Garcia swam up towards the light, and reached the surface where he found a floatation ring. He and Cormier held onto the ring and swam towards a life raft, but after about 20 minutes Cormier was “face down in the water” and he slipped off the ring, Garcia said.

A signal from the overturned scallop boat had alerted the Coast Guard, and Garcia was pulled out of the water by a helicopter with the help of a rescue swimmer.

The loss is compounded for the family of the boat’s skipper, 51-year-old Jerry Bretal and his 29-year-old stepson Xavier Vega. Those two were near the bridge of the vessel went it went over, according to Garcia, who believes they may still be inside the Leonardo, on the seafloor 250 feet below the surface.

Reporters for the Boston Globe visited the New Bedford pier where others in the fishing industry convened somberly, and shared some of their observations. The boat itself was in good shape, they said, but the weather was fierce. The Coast Guard reported 9-foot waves and wind gusts of around 45 miles per hour when they pulled Garcia out of the water.

David Bolton told the Globe that he was surprised the fishing crew went out in those conditions, and suspected they might have been on the water at a particularly bad time when the force of the tide went up against the waves.

The 52-year-old boat sank roughly 28 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard. The Leonardo is of a smaller class of scalloping boats than the ships that ply the edge of the continental shelf on long journeys.

Leonardo is owned by Luis Martins, who said the episode has been “devastating” and likened it to “losing one of your own.”

The family and friends of the three who were lost described them as good men, said they would be missed, and noted that Vega had survived bone cancer as a child. Cormier’s family is trying to raise $10,000 online to give him “a proper vigil and to fulfill the needs he was attempting to fill.”

Scallops are a highly lucrative business, and the scallop industry centered in New Bedford has made the South Coast city the most valuable fishing port in the United States for nearly two decades.

Yet despite those riches, the industry is also beset by danger and hardship. The Globe cited a report from the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, which found that from 2000 to 2013, 60 fishermen and lobstermen died on the job in Massachusetts. Barry Richard, a commentator for WBSM, reported that the Leonardo is the seventh New Bedford vessel lost at sea in the month of November since 1919.

For Garcia, it wasn’t the first time he narrowly escaped drowning at work. Hall said that the lone survivor of the Leonardo was swept overboard during the winter and rescued by crewmembers when he was in his 20s.

“Despite all that, he does plan to return to fishing over the objections of his family,” Hall reported.

ANDY METZGER

 

 

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker signs into law a massive education funding bill, and now the real work begins to make sure the $1.5 billion gets delivered and school districts use the money effectively. (CommonWealth) Tucked in the bill is a call to review the Proposition 2½ tax cap law that creates a particular challenge for many communities in Western Mass. (Boston Globe)

Baker is shortening the ban on all vaping products, which was scheduled to stay in place until late December, to December 11. (Boston Globe)

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka are circulating proposals on how to close out the last fiscal year, but so far nothing has materialized. (CommonWealth)

Former House speaker Sal DiMasi says he paid his debt to society and wants the chance to work as a lobbyist, but the secretary of state’s office says his federal convictions bars him from that line of work for a decade. (State House News) A Boston Herald editorial says DiMasi can do plenty of good helping the homeless or advocating for prison reform — issues he has said he might want to work on — without being a lobbyist.

Legislation filed on Beacon Hill would require all public buildings, including restaurants, to have at least one diaper-changing station available to all caregivers, regardless of gender. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Records obtained by The Brockton Enterprise show the city’s Health Department inspects only half of its apartments.

Mayor Marty Walsh signed a city ordinance broadening oversight of marijuana licensing in Boston, which was previously controlled entirely by his office. (Boston Globe)

Out of the 6,100 Airbnb listings in Boston, only 650 have received approval from the city, and under the terms of a legal settlement, the short-term rental company could begin de-listing unregistered properties next week. (WBUR)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump knew the whistle-blower complaint had been filed raising questions about his halt on aid to Ukraine when he released funds in late August. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu seems poised to challenge Mayor Marty Walsh in two years, though she’s still not saying if it’s on her radar. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Enrollment dropped at New Bedford’s City on a Hill charter school in the months leading up to the news this week that the school will close in June. (Standard-Times) 

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A few hospital leaders, including UMass Memorial Health Care’s Eric DIckson, are bucking their industry’s position and backing Medicare for All. (Boston Globe) CommonWealth wrote in April about Dickson as a health care outlier as the state’s hospitals lined up against the Medicare for All movement.

ARTS/CULTURE

A decrepit Cotuit gas station has been transformed into a ceramics studio and art school. (Cape Cod Times) 

Could the opening of the ArcLight theater on Causeway Street herald at least a mini comeback of film venues in Boston? (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION 

Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Uber are teaming up to offer $10 credits on rides tonight in parts of central and westrern Massachusetts, which MADD says is a heavy-drinking night. (Telegram & Gazette)

Rep. William Straus plans to make available to the public 300 pages of records from Grant Thornton, the audit firm that investigate procedural failures at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. (WGBH)

A 19-year-old driver is cooperating with authorities and has not received a citation after striking and killing 13-year-old Jackson Frechette as he tried to cross Route 114 in Peabody on a bicycle. (Salem News)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Fall River’s redevelopment authority and the New Bedford-based Vineyard Wind announced an agreement Tuesday to collaborate on finding a new use for roughly half of the City Pier. (Herald News) 

MEDIA

Media critic Dan Kennedy says local news is being killed by technology disruption and corporate greed. (Media Nation)