A fishing boat heads out of Portland harbor last week at dawn. Another vessel that calls Portland home, the Emmy Rose, sank off Massachusetts Monday morning. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — High winds are impacting the search for four Maine fishermen whose boat went missing early Monday morning about 20 miles northeast of Provincetown, Massachusetts. 

Maine Public reports that a U.S. Coast Guard cutter will continue the search overnight through winds gusting more than 30 miles per hour and 6- to 8-foot seas. A fixed-wing aircraft will fly out in the morning.

The National Weather Service warned of a potential tornado on Cape Cod earlier Monday, and the U.S. Coast Guard called back a Jayhawk helicopter dispatched to the location shortly after 1 a.m. when the 82-foot groundfishing boat Emmy Rose sent an automated distress call. 

The call was never received.  

The Portland-based vessel was due into Gloucester, Massachusetts, at 6 a.m. after fishing for haddock, hake and pollock.

“I hope to God they find them,” said Rink Varian, the boat’s owner. “I just want to go on record saying this wasn’t because they weren’t an experienced crew. That wasn’t it. These guys were very experienced. They were the best.”

Varian of Westbrook said Monday morning that the Coast Guard had located an empty life raft, an oil slick and debris field — but no sign of the crew.

“This is a horrific accident,” he said.

With an empty life raft and no distress call, lobster and halibut fisherman Gerry Cushman of Port Clyde thinks whatever happened must have happened fast.

“They probably capsized but we may never know,” Cushman said. “But if the crew didn’t have time to get into their survival suits or raft — without a doubt, it happened quickly.”

Cushman is credited with saving the lives of two lobstermen in 2016 when their boat caught fire about 4 miles off the coast of Port Clyde. He said whenever fishing accidents happen, they reverberate through the whole fishing community.

“It makes you feel sick to your stomach,” he said. “It happens more than you wish. It’s especially bad for the families.”

Maine’s groundfishing fleet is broken up into two cooperative sectors. One is operated by the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and the other by the Sustainable Harvest Sector. The Emmy Rose belonged to the latter.

“They weren’t in our sector,” said Ben Martens, the association’s executive director. “But everyone in the fishing community is holding out hope for the families.”

Two other Maine commercial fishermen died at sea earlier this year. On Jan. 24, the Hayley Ann sank about 50 miles off Portland. 

Captain Joe Nickerson, 60, of Arundel and crew member Chris Pinkham, 44, of Boothbay Harbor were pulled from the water by another fishing boat but did not survive. 

Nickerson was chairman of the board for the Fisherman’s Association.

Correction: An earlier version of this report misspelled Gerry Cushman’s first name.

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Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.