Maintenance issues aboard the Lady Cecilia were the focus of the third day’s testimony at a hearing into the reasons the fishing vessel sank, claiming four lives.

Technicians and inspectors described issues that may have affected the seaworthiness of the former Gulf Coast shrimping boat, which was built in 1978.

The comments came as the U.S. Coast Guard held a hearing at Camp Rilea into the March 10 disappearance of the vessel off the Southwest Washington Coast. Missing, presumed drowned, are skipper Dave Nichols, 43, deckhand Jason Bjaranson, 38, deckhand Luke Jensen, 22, and fisheries observer Christopher Langel, 25.

Investigators at Wednesday’s hearing heard from the mechanics, electricians and inspectors who helped keep the vessel going, plus testimony from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration observer formerly on the vessel.

Don Fastabend

Don Fastabend owns Astoria Marine Construction Company, which performed dry-dock maintenance on the Lady Cecelia for 10 years, all the way up until its last haul-out from May 13 to 20.

Fastabend said that when the Lady Cecelia was taken out of the water at his shipyard, it was leaking from the lazarette – an aft storage area near the stern of the vessel – from a pinhole near its center line.

Fastabend’s employees used steel “doubler” plates to fix the hole. Doubler plates are a reinforcing pad, ring, collar or strap used to reinforce a vessel’s hull. He said it’s the quickest and most cost-effective way to fix leaking in a boat’s hull – he guesses 70 to 80 percent of vessels on the North Coast use doubler plates for repairs.

When asked, Fastabend said he couldn’t recall who did the welding on the Lady Cecelia, and that certified welders weren’t required for the work.

Fastabend said his shipyard tested welds with pressurized air, by partially submerging vessels and taking them out for sea trials when asked by the owners. He added that he’s never witnessed a doubler plate fail.

The Lady Cecelia was in average condition compared with other 35-year-old vessels, said Fastabend, adding that one of the most general issues with that vessel or others like it is leaking from the lazarette.

He said that rudder shafts and lazarettes have a tendency to rust, mostly from water on the inside of the vessel in its bilge.

The AMCCO?owner said he never knew of any specific problems with stability or the rudder post, adding that his best guess was that the Lady Cecelia was run over while on its way home from fishing.

Earl Sherman

Earl Sherman, owner of A & E Marine Services, worked on Lady Cecelia’s navigation equipment and alarm apparatus, along with other electronic systems on the vessel, for about 15 years. He said his most recent trip onto the vessel was last summer to check the sonar.

Sherman said there are always recurring problems with vessels’ bilge alarms, which monitor when the water in the hull is getting too high. He often must splice together lengths of electrical wire which inevitably corrodes over time, he said.

The last time he was in the vessel, Sherman said, the high water alarm in the lazarette was mounted on its forward bulkhead 2 to 3 inches above the normal bilge puddle. There would have to be 18 inches to two feet of water in the lazarette before the alarm would go off, he said.

Sherman said his opinion was that a net or wire in the water could have put the vessel in a precarious position.

Ron Collman

Ron Collman, a Coast Guard auxillary member for about 20 years, inspects vessels before they receive the Coast Guards stamp of approval to go to sea. He boards vessels and checks fire systems and alarms, performs alcohol tests, conducts training and goes through a checklist to make sure the vessel’s safe to go to see.

On Oct. 11, he performed a followup inspection on the Lady Cecelia’s safety deficiencies identified by Curt Farrell, the Coast Guard’s chief of fishing vessel inspections. That was to be the last such inspection before the Lady Cecelia sank.

Collman said that during a dockside inspection, he checks all bilge alarms on the vessel, although some boats don’t have such an apparatus in the lazarette. He added that during an inspection he doesn’t enter the lazarette to check for one.

He said there’s a log on board the vessel detailing safety training, which was performed by someone else certified in such matters. Collman said the trainer signs of on the log, and he’s only required to look at the log and take the skipper’s word that the training has occurred.

Collman said training on the Lady Cecelia had not been identified as a previous deficiency, and he was not required to check more in-depth repairs as part of his inspection.

Collman concluded by saying he believed all the deficiencies had been corrected on the Lady Cecelia in his last inspection.

Mike Dilloway

Mike Dilloway was a NOAA?fisheries observer on board the Lady Cecelia at times between March 2011 and February 2012. He was hired to work on the vessel through contractor Saltwater, Inc., which deployed him and later Langel, the observer who died.

Dilloway said that he’d conduct a safety check – going over the emergency radio beacon (EPIRB), rafts, hatches, fire extinguishers and other devices – before leaving on a vessel. The Lady Cecelia would have needed Coast Guard approval before getting a fisheries observer to go on a trip.

While on board, a fisheries observer records the GPS?location, length of tows, amount of bycatch, discarded fish and other aspects of the fishing trip.

Dilloway said he experienced one significant problem with the Lady Cecelia, when its power went out for 40 hours while it was in the ocean. Nichols, he said, wanted to fix the problem himself before calling the Coast Guard for assistance. He said he thought the problem was a hydraulic valve being left open.

He added that the vessel had chronically sluggish steering, and that the largest haul ever taken was 62,000 pounds, while he was on board.

Becky Hyson

Becky Hyson, Nichols’ fiance, had known him for eight years and added he tried to call her every day while at sea. In the last conversation, she said, he told her he was done fishing and would see her in a couple hours.

Hyson said she knew Jensen through a friend, to whom she suggested there was an available spot on the Lady Cecelia. She later told Nichols that Jensen was ready to go.

What’s next

Today the investigators will hear from the Coast Guard’s chief of fishing vessel inspections, a dock supervisor from Pacific West Seafoods and a skipper who was nearby where the Lady Cecelia’s emergency beacon went off. Then investigators will provide closing statements for the first round of hearings.

“We wanted the family members to go first, so they could listen to the hearing,” said Lt. Kimberly Rule, assistant senior investigating officer for the Coast Guard. The family members are treated as party’s-in-interest, meaning that unlike other sequestered witnesses, they can stay after testimony to hear others and look at evidence.

Lt. Anthony Hillenbrand, lead investigator for the Coast Guard, said he organized the interviews based on who gave the most information during preliminary interviews before the hearings. Tom Kent, one of the Lady Cecelia’s owners, had the most to say about the vessel, and took up most of Monday with several hours of testimony.

“I think maintenance was the big issue,” said Hillenbrand about Wednesday’s hearing. “I think we got some good information.”