Sur­viv­ing drama at sea

Lorne Jol­liffe and his crew watched help­lessly as Ocean Ne­go­tia­tor slipped be­low the sur­face

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY TERRY ROBERTS

Lorne Jol­liffe spent much of the morn­ing on May 23 with a phone to his ear, talk­ing with an in­sur­ance agent, marine trans­porta­tion ex­perts and do­ing me­dia in­ter­views. He would have much pre­ferred to be fish­ing. But the Old Per­li­can res­i­dent now has a big prob­lem. He doesn’t have a boat.

The 37-year-old har­vester and his three crew­men watched help­lessly on the af­ter­noon of Wed­nes­day, May 22 from the wheel­house of an­other ves­sel as the 50-foot Ocean Ne­go­tia­tor filled with wa­ter and sank about 45 miles (72 kilo­me­tres) east of Bay de Verde Head.

Some 24 hours later, Lorne was still in a daze, try­ing to process how things could go so bad, so quickly. But he was also ex­press­ing re­lief that there were no in­juries or loss of life, and of­fer­ing praise for those who promptly came to the aid of his crew and their stricken ves­sel.

“I’m just happy it went so good and no­body got hurt,” Lorne told The Com­pass dur­ing a phone in­ter­view. “We all es­caped with­out a scratch or a bruise.”

Alarm sounded

The Ne­go­tia­tor was mak­ing its way back to port in Bay de Verde Wed­nes­day morn­ing when the engine started “grum­bling,” Lorne ex­plained.

He called Coast Guard shortly af­ter 9 a.m., re­quest­ing a tow, and later made con­tact with an­other ves­sel fish­ing sev­eral miles away, The Jennifer Tyler, which is owned by Carl Coish of Bay de Verde.

Coish agreed to take the Ne­go­tia­tor in tow, and asked if he had time to fin­ish haul­ing some gear. At the time, the sit­u­a­tion seemed man­age­able, so Lorne told his fel­low skip­per there was time.

But within min­utes, the bilge alarm sounded, and when a crewmem­ber looked into the engine com­part­ment, he saw it was quickly fill­ing with sea­wa­ter. The crew pressed an aux­il­iary pump into ac­tion, but it was un­able to han­dle the vol­ume of wa­ter, and then the gen­er­a­tor went silent.

That’s when Lorne or­dered his crew to don sur­vival suits and pre­pare the emer­gency raft.

He also ra­dioed the Tyler. The sit­u­a­tion had be­come dire, and they were in im­me­di­ate need of help.

Luck­ily, the seas were rel­a­tively calm, the sun was shin­ing and their emer­gency evac­u­a­tion skills were well-honed. They calmly stepped from the deck of the Ne­go­tia­tor and into the raft, and later onto the deck of the Tyler. No­body even got wet.

The in­ci­dent was cap­tured by a pho­tog­ra­pher on­board a cir­cling search and res­cue air­craft.

“It all went like clock­work,” said Lorne, who co-owns the en­ter­prise with his fa­ther, Stan Jol­liffe.

Once on­board the Tyler, Lorne and his crew con­tin­ued to hold out hope that the pumps would keep run­ning, and the Ne­go­tia­tor would be saved. But by about 2 p.m., all hope faded. The white ves­sel with green trim con­tin­ued to set­tle down in the wa­ter, stern first. She then took a star­board list and slipped be­low, with only a small por­tion of the bow bob­bing above the sur­face, a pocket of air in the fore­cas­tle pre­vent­ing her from go­ing to the bot­tom.

“I was there in a daze, look­ing, watch­ing my liveli­hood go down,” Lorne said. They fi­nally made the de­ci­sion to head back to Bay de Verde, ar­riv­ing in port at about 10 p.m. Wed­nes­day, greeted by re­lieved fam­ily mem­bers and friends.

When asked what might have hap­pened, Lorne said he had sev­eral the­o­ries, but couldn’t be sure. He said there were no signs of trou­ble up to that point.

“Some­thing ma­jor let go,” he of­fered.

Mean­while, the Jol­liffe’s have some big de­ci­sions to make, but there’s no ques­tion about whether they will be back on the wa­ter.

Lorne said many gen­er­a­tions of his fam­ily have earned a liv­ing from the fish­ery, and he’s not about to give up. “I’ll be back at it,” he stated. One of the first or­ders of busi­ness will be how to har­vest the re­main­der of their crab quota. Lorne said it was only their third or fourth trip of the sea­son, and roughly one-quar­ter of the quota had been landed.

As for the Ne­go­tia­tor, Lorne is not the nos­tal­gic type, call­ing it “just a pos­ses­sion.”

“It can be re­placed. Ev­ery­body is safe. I re­ally don’t care about the boat,” he said.

Pho­tos courtesy of the Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Ocean

In th­ese two pho­tos, the crew of the Ocean Ne­go­tia­tor are seen pre­par­ing to de­ploy a life raft in this aerial photo pro­vided by Fish­eries and Oceans.

Photo courtesy of the Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Ocean

An emer­gency raft is seen at the bow of The Jennifer Tyler (left), while the Ocean Ne­go­tia­tor (right) floats nearby.

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