Nautical News: Top Stories of 2018



A Branson, Missouri duck boat with 31 people on board capsized and sank in Table Rock Lake during a severe thunderstorm. It was reported that nobody was wearing a life jacket. Seventeen people were killed and seven others, including three children, were taken to hospitals. Officials said that the victims ranged in age from a 1 year old to a 76 year old. Nine of those who died were members of the same family. Fishermen and other tourists in passing boats tried to pull people out of the water, but the strong wind and choppy water hindered their attempts. This accident is now considered the deadliest tourist duck boat accident in American history.




Twenty-six year old Arthur Medici of Revere was killed by a great white shark off Cape Cod in the first fatal shark attack in Massachusetts since 1936. He was attacked at Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet while boogie boarding. Experts say a new risk area is emerging in Massachusetts, where a thriving marine life population is colliding with tourists in ways not seen in almost a century. This was the second shark attack in two weeks on Cape Cod. Bill Lytton, the 61 year old Scarsdale, New York man who was bitten by a shark said he survived by punching the shark in its gills. He said he was swimming in about 7 or 8 feet of water when he suddenly felt excruciating pain and was being pulled under water. Fortunately, he said he remembered seeing in documentaries how dolphins escaped a shark attack by ramming the shark’s gills, so he punched the shark in the gills as hard as he could. Doctors said he tore the tendons in his arm from punching the shark. Fortunately, the shark opened it jaws and swam away. Miraculously Lytton made it back to shore where he was treated by good Samaritans, two of whom were nursing graduates. Eventually he was airlifted to a hospital where he had to be placed in a coma for two days while doctors performed 6 different surgeries. Experts said the 70,000 seals on Cape Cod beaches are the real attraction to the sharks. The United States has historically had the most shark attacks — mostly in Florida — followed by Australia, South Africa and Brazil.




The southwest coast of Florida is experiencing its worst case of red tide. Inlets and waterways that are normally brimming with wildlife have become a red tide slaughterhouse. Thousands of dead fish have clogged inlets and canals. Goliath grouper that can live up to 40 years have been found dead along with a manatee and a whale shark. At least 90 sea turtles were found stranded as the tide stretches well into their nesting season. Birds are dying too. Hundreds of double-breasted cormorants, brown pelicans, and other seabirds have been washing ashore on beaches in Fort Meyers, Sanibel, Venice, and Cape Coral. The red tide made it to Florida’s east coast across Lake Okeechobee. Health officials warn that humans who suffer from asthma to stay out of the water. Restaurants, charter boat captains, marinas, and seafood companies suffered huge financial losses. Florida’s governor declared a state of emergency. Consumers are still afraid to buy or eat fish.




Officials in Massachusetts and Rhode Island announced they awarded contracts for two massive offshore wind farms to be built off Martha’s Vineyard. One company would build an 800 mega-watt wind farm with as many as 100 turbines about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, and Rhode Island officials said they selected Providence based Deepwater Wind to build a 400 mega-watt wind farm northwest of the Massachusetts project. Until now, the wind farm industry has struggled to build any offshore project of size in the United States. Fishermen worry that the cumulative impacts of hundreds of wind turbines with associated subsurface cables and subsequent noise will have a detrimental impact on marine life and also worry about area closures during construction and after construction maintaining the turbines.




During a major n’oresater, Scituate Harbormaster Stephen Mone fell into the water as he was trying to secure the harbormaster boat. Lucky for him he was saved by Stephan Hill, the general manager of the Mill Wharf Restaurant who was looking out the restaurant window when Mone fell in. Apparently the boat’s dock lines snapped, and the boat was banging against the dock. Harbormaster Mone managed to get on the boat to rig new lines and got back on to the dock to tie them, but waves rocked the dock so badly that he lost his balance and went head first into the water. The restaurant manager yelled to a co-worker to call 911 and immediately went to help. Harbormaster Mone was trying to get himself out of the water on to the dock, but couldn’t do it. He said he grabbed on to cleat to pull himself out, but the dock was too high. His body went numb and he lost control of his hand and fingers from the cold. Amazingly, the restaurant manager found the strength to help get the harbormaster up on to the dock. Out of breath and freezing, both men laid on the dock waiting for help. Another man came to help and got both of them inside the restaurant. They removed the harbormaster’s wet clothes and wrapped table cloths around him to get him warm. The ambulance arrived and took Mone, who was blue, to the hospital where he was treated for hypothermia. He said there was no doubt in his mind that Mill Wharf Restaurant manager Stephan Hill saved his life and he will always be indebted to him. Later, Stephan Hill received a medal from the town for his heroic rescue.




Peter DeCola, a retired U.S. Coast Guard Captain from Plymouth was appointed by NOAA to be the new superintendent of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. He replaced Craig MacDonald, the previous superintendent. DeCola said his main goals are to protect the historical resources found in the sanctuary and to educate people, making them more aware of it rich diversity in marine life. The Stellwagen Bank sanctuary sits between Cape Ann and Provincetown and was named after Henry Stellwagen, a Navy officer who mapped the area during the 1800s. The bank is an underwater plateau formed in the last ice age. It is known for its rich fishing grounds as well as a feeding and nursing ground for a number of whale species, including humpbacks, northern right whales and fin whales. It is really a bank with liquid assets.



Researchers reported they spotted no new North Atlantic right whale calves this past year. Trained spotters in airplanes flying over Florida and Georgia look for newborns between December and April where female right whales typically give birth. This is the first time since 1989 that no newborns were found. NOAA now claims the 450 North Atlantic right whales that exist today include only 100 breeding females. This limits the gene pool and leads to inbreeding. More bad news came when it was reported at least seventeen dead right whales were recorded – twelve in Canada and five in the U.S. Three carcasses of those 5 that died in the U.S were found washed up off Nantucket.




More than 400 dead seals were found washed up on New England beaches – 57 of them on Massachusetts and New Hampshire beaches. Maine had the greatest number of dead seals washing ashore. Marine biologists believe the animals are dying either from a disease similar to the flu or from a distemper virus. Live seals were found coughing, sneezing, and having seizures according to a spokesperson with NOAA’s office in Gloucester. Some believe that there are so many seals in New England, the die off was a part of nature. Scientists thought it was a disease like distemper or the flu. People are urged not to touch a seal and not to let their pets touch them either.



A planned indoor salmon farm, said to be one of the world’s largest indoor fish farms, has raise Belfast, Maine’s officials’ economic hopes while increasing fears from the city’s residents. Opponents to the proposed factory claim 7.7 million gallons of waste water a day would be dumped into the bay. That waste water would contain fecal matter, bleach, chemicals, and excess fish feed that could produce substantial amounts of nitrogen which in turn could produce toxic algae blooms. An attorney representing the Maine Lobster Union, said the fish farm’s contamination would cause irreparable harm to Maine’s lobstermen. The $500 million fish farm is being proposed by the Norwegian company Nordic Aquafarms, who claims that ocean fish farms have become increasingly expensive and beset by a range of problems, including diseases such as sea lice, escapes into the wild, and pollution. They claim that won’t happen with an indoor fish farm factory.




China announced it will impose a 25 percent tariff on American seafood products, including Gulf of Maine lobsters. The tariffs were imposed on July 6th in retaliation of America putting tariffs on Chinese aluminum and steel. About 85 percent of the lobster exported from the U.S. originated from Maine waters, and Maine and Massachusetts combined accounted for about two-thirds of all U.S. live lobster exports to China last year. Since July, that market has virtually evaporated. Surprisingly, fishermen are not feeling the crunch from a drop in sales to China. Lobstermen said domestic demand for lobsters was strong and the boat price for hard-shell lobsters – the kind most likely able to survive the long trip to China – remains strong despite the tariffs.




Team Vestas 11th Hour Racing retired from the race after colliding with a Chinese fishing boat with 10 men on board 30 miles before the finish line. The Vestas 11th Hour Racing team made a mayday call on behalf of the fishing boat that they hit, alerting the Hong Kong Marine Rescue Coordination Center. The collision resulted in the death of one of the fishermen. The Team Vestas boat was damaged, but was able to make it safely to the dock under power. Nobody on the sailing boat was reported to be injured. Then tragedy struck again in the Volvo Round The World Ocean Race. John Fisher, 47 years old, from Southampton, England fell overboard from his team’s Sun Hung Kai’s Scallywag sailboat as they were racing towards Brazil from New Zealand. Crew members said Fisher was knocked overboard by the yacht’s mainsail after he unclipped his tether to straighten out a line. The crew said John was wearing a lifejacket and a survival suit, but believed he was knocked unconscious from the blow before he hit the water. The crew quickly dropped two buoys overboard, but by the time they got the boat under control and turned around, the wind and waves made it impossible for them to find either their crew mate or the buoys. They searched for several hours before it was declared that John Fisher was lost at sea. The accident happened 1400 miles west of Cape Horn in the Southern Ocean. Volvo Ocean Race officials ordered the crew aboard Scallywag to sail to the nearest port in Chile. In a previous leg of the race, another team’s boat struck a Chinese fishing boat, killing one of the Chinese fishermen on board. Also in this leg of the race to Brazil, two other boats, Vestas 11th hour Racing Team and Team Mapfre, were demisted.




Gallops Island in Boston Harbor has been closed to the public for nearly 20 years because of asbestos left behind by the government. A clean up project has been in the works, but now a new problem has literally surfaced. Workers have discovered exposed remains of small pox victims who were buried on the island in the late 1800s. In some cases bones were seen sticking out of the ground in deteriorated coffins. The federal government provided $525,000 to identify the exposed remains and re-bury them at the Fairview Cemetery in Hyde Park. Gallops Island was the city’s quarantine station for tens of thousands immigrants arriving by ship suffering from small pox. Those who didn’t survive were buried on the island, but now it might be impossible to find their relatives. However, some of the small pox victims buried there were also veterans who served in the Civil War. During World War I, the island was the site of a health experiment that went tragically wrong. Navy sailors who volunteered were used to study the spread of the deadly Spanish flu, but the doctor conducting the experiment died from the disease. Some people believe diseases like small pox can survive even after their victim has been dead for a hundred years, but the Federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention assures them that it cannot. Even so, all the equipment used in the project — machinery, clothes, mats, screens, hand tools, personal protective gear, and trailers — will be decontaminated on the island. The clean-up was finally completed by the end of autumn. By the way, the island is named after one of its owners, John Gallop, who was one of the first Boston Harbor pilots.




One of two stolen cars submerged in the North River under the bridge connecting Norwell’s Bridge Street and Marshfield’s Union Street was successfully removed by a special underwater dive team after an unsuccessful attempt was made earlier in the year in May. The underwater marine unit was formed last year, combining the resources of the Quincy, Marshfield, Plymouth, Duxbury, Scituate, Attleboro and Cohasset police departments. At some point, another attempt will be made by the dive team to remove the second car. The vehicle removed was in 7 feet of water. Because of its location, resting against the footings of the bridge, it was thought it could potentially damage the bridge. It was also considered a hazard to navigation, and a potential life threatening situation to anyone jumping off the bridge. Police said there are between 12 to 15 other cars in the water that were dumped near the bridge.




Thom Dammrich, who has been the president of the NMMA for nearly twenty years announced that he will retire on July 1, 2019. A search committee made up of NMMA board members are in the process of identifying Dammrich’s successor in early 2019. One of Dammrich’s last push was for the successful passage of the Modern Fish Act. However, his attempt to squash the sale of E15 ethanol failed, and his effort to stop the tariffs on aluminum and steel has fallen on deaf ears. His concern of course is the increase in price for all boats, especially aluminum ones.




The world’s largest collection of brand new 1929 and 1930 Nash Motors automobiles were found on the wreck of the SS Senator 450 feet down on the bottom of Lake Michigan. The 268 cars, valued at $251,000 when being transported to Michigan car dealers, collided with an ore carrier in pea soup fog on Halloween night 1929. A maritime archeologist, who just surveyed the wreck, said some of the cars are still in pretty good condition. The wreck has been added to the National Register of Historic Places; one of nearly 150 U.S. shipwrecks on the historic list. Coincidentally, the wreck and the cars are within the boundary of a pending National Marine Sanctuary.


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