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Fishermen missing off Provincetown identified as Coast Guard calls off search

The US Coast Guard continued searching the Atlantic Ocean for the Emmy Rose on Tuesday.
The US Coast Guard continued searching the Atlantic Ocean for the Emmy Rose on Tuesday.US Coast Guard/Twitter

The Coast Guard called off its search Tuesday evening for the four-man crew of the Emmy Rose, a Maine-based fishing vessel apparently lost off Provincetown early Monday morning. Searchers will not resume the mission unless new information comes to light, according to the Coast Guard.

The men on board were identified as Jeff Matthews, Ethan Ward, Michael Porpa, and Robert Blethen, Coast Guard Petty Officer Amanda Wyrick said late Tuesday night. Wyrick said she had no further information on the men, including where they are from. They were first identified by Newscenter Maine.

Matthews’ daughter, Reyann Matthews, said Tuesday night that he “was the best man I ever met in my entire life.”

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”He would give the shirt off the back for someone,” she said in a Facebook message. “He would go without just to make sure his kids had everything they needed. He was the man I could lay my head on when I was crying and would give me words of wisdom so I didn’t give up. He was truly my best friend and my other half and this is the worst thing that’s ever happened.”

Matthews lived in South Portland, Maine, according to his Facebook page.

The search for the men ended at 5:22 p.m. Tuesday after covering more than 2,000 square miles, the Coast Guard said in a statement.

“The decision to suspend a search is never an easy one. Our crews conducted searches continuously for over 38 hours covering an area of approximately 2,066 square miles,” Captain Wesley Hester, search and rescue mission coordinator for the Coast Guard’s First District, said in the statement. “We extend our condolences to the friends and loved ones of these fishermen during this trying time.”


The Emmy Rose, an 82-foot, steel-hulled vessel built in 1987, was well maintained by its owner, the Coast Guard had inspected and approved its condition and safety equipment in August, and the haul of 45,000 pounds of pollack, haddock, and redfish in its hold was within the ship’s capability, according to the Coast Guard and industry officials.

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And yet, there was no Mayday call over the marine band radio; there was no call for help on the satellite phone on board. The only alert that something was wrong came from the vessel’s emergency radio beacon, which automatically broadcast coordinates some 20 miles northeast of Provincetown early Monday morning.

“They were making their last trip before Thanksgiving,” said Nick Giacalone, the co-owner of the Fisherman’s Wharf Gloucester, where the Emmy Rose was expected to dock around 7 a.m. Monday to offload its catch. “Then this had to happen.”

The Coast Guard launched aircraft to the spot in the Atlantic Ocean starting around 1 a.m. Monday and by Tuesday afternoon had searched 1,500 square miles of sea from the air and from the decks of the 210-foot cutter Vigorous and other Coast Guard vessels.

Along with the emergency beacon, the only signs of the Emmy Rose and its crew were an inflated life raft, an oil slick, and some debris, according to the Coast Guard.

The owner of the vessel, Rink Varian, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Emmy Rose was expected to arrive at the Gloucester wharf with its haul, Giacalone said. In a telephone interview Tuesday, he said he spoke with the crew by satellite phone around 8 Sunday night, hours before the beacon activated.

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Giacalone said the crew was experienced, the ship was well maintained, and the vessel itself had all of the safety gear — immersion suits, radios, flares, lifeboat — that the crew would need to safely escape a sinking boat. He said a load of 45,000 pounds would have not impaired the Emmy Rose’s seaworthiness; it has hauled more than 80,000 pounds without a problem in the past.

“I don’t think it’s anything to do with [seaworthiness] or maintenance or lack of maintenance,” Giacalone said. “Whatever triggered it happened fast, and it was totally unexpected. ... Some freak accident happened. That’s really the only thing it could be.”

Giacalone said he has seen the Emmy Rose and mostly the same crew members about once a week the entire year. He knows the captain and he also believes a 38-year-old Gloucester man he knew personally was on board.

“They were a successful boat, they were doing well,” he said.


According to Coast Guard data, the Emmy Rose passed a safety inspection conducted by the Coast Guard’s Gloucester facility Aug. 19. Under Coast Guard regulations, the Emmy Rose was required to have an immersion suit for each crew member, the Coast Guard said.

Alan Tracy, president of Vessel Services Inc. in Portland told the Globe the Emmy Rose was loaded with ice at his business on Wednesday before the crew embarked on their trip. He said he believes the boat left overnight or sometime on Thursday.

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The groundfishing vessel was once owned by the so-called Codfather, Carlos Rafael, who was ordered to sell off some of his New Bedford-based fleet after pleading guilty to federal charges of flouting fishing quotas and smuggling cash out of the country.

The vessel was then called the Sasha Lee but was changed to Emmy Rose when purchased earlier this year, according to federal records.

Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe. Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.