Star-crossed trip ends in grounding on A.C. beach

The Jessica Heather fishing trawler sits grounded Monday on the sand south of the Pier at Caesars in Atlantic City. A report was being investigated that the captain left the vessel on autopilot and fell asleep. Before this, a crew member had to return home for a family medical emergency. The vessel was pulled off the beach later in the day. Story, B3.
The Jessica Heather fishing trawler sits grounded Monday on the sand south of the Pier at Caesars in Atlantic City. A report was being investigated that the captain left the vessel on autopilot and fell asleep. Before this, a crew member had to return home for a family medical emergency. The vessel was pulled off the beach later in the day. Story, B3. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 21, 2013

Jessica Heather had a bad night.

Things had gone wrong for the 56-foot commercial fishing vessel even before it ran aground in Atlantic City in the wee hours Monday.

Based on preliminary reports, here is what police and emergency responders said happened after the boat left port in Atlantic City:

First, a crew member had to get back to shore because of a medical emergency in his family late Sunday.

Then, with the boat on autopilot, the captain reportedly fell asleep. That's when the boat ran aground on a popular beach near Missouri Avenue, about 200 yards from the Pier at Caesars.

There it stayed, a curiosity awaiting a rescue aided by early evening's high tide.

A tow boat contracted by the Jessica Heather's owner pulled the vessel to a marina just before 6 p.m., said Lt. Eric Leese of the Coast Guard. There was no pollution of the area and no visible damage to the boat, Leese said, but the captain was unable to operate the boat after it was pulled from the beach.

Earlier, when authorities interviewed the three-man crew, they discovered that one member, George Southwell Jr., 32, of Brick, had a traffic warrant out for his arrest. State troopers transported him to the Atlantic County Jail.

Things could have been worse, officials said. The boat remained upright rather than listing to one side.

"Thankfully, it didn't run into the pier, because it would have been a much worse situation," said Coast Guard Petty Officer Nick Ameen of the Public Affairs Unit. "It's not a stable situation."

There were no fish on board and no fuel leaks, said Thomas Foley, Atlantic City's emergency management coordinator.

Foley said the initial distress call came after 2 a.m., but visitors on the pier told authorities they could see lights on the ship about 11:30 p.m. Sunday. Investigators plan to review video from the pier, a shopping mall that extends over the ocean.

When authorities arrived, the tide had reversed to where the boat was "high and dry," Foley said. Initial reports were that the captain fell asleep, but Foley said investigators from the Coast Guard were still investigating. The names of the captain and the other crew member were not released Monday.

The sight of the rusty boat surrounded by police and marine officers and secured within a safety zone was a spectacle for swimmers in the surf and children playing on the beach.

By late afternoon, the spectacle had enlarged to include the large tow boat waiting for high tide. Additional emergency crews were on land with booms at the ready in case problems emerged that could cause fuel to spill.


>Inquirer.com

More photos of the fishing vessel that ran aground at www.inquirer.com/JessicaHeather


Contact Barbara Boyer at 856-779-3838, bboyer@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @BBBoyer.

Inquirer staff writer Sean Carlin contributed to this article.

|
|
|
|
|