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“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.”
Those words are from the Bible’s Psalm 107. Some of them are also engraved on the Fisherman’s Memorial in Gloucester, Massachusetts, honoring lives lost at sea.
Tragically, it seems that four more Maine fishermen have been lost. The Coast Guard suspended its search on Nov. 24 for the missing crew of the Emmy Rose, a Portland-based commercial fishing vessel that was en route to Gloucester when it sank in the early hours of Monday, Nov. 23.
All four of those crewmembers are from Maine: skipper Robert Blethen, Jeffrey Matthews, Michael Porper and Ethan Ward.
“The decision to suspend a search is never an easy one,” said Capt. Wesley Hester, search and rescue mission coordinator for the Coast Guard’s First District. “We extend our condolences to the friends and loved ones of these fishermen during this trying time.”
A candlelit vigil was held in Portland Wednesday night. Thousands of dollars have already been raised to support their families. Public officials have spoken out.
“The news that the search for crew of the Emmy Rose has been cancelled is devastating. Tragic losses at sea like this resonate loudly throughout our State and hit Maine’s tight-knit fishing community especially hard. This is particularly true as we head into the holiday season,” Gov. Janet Mills said on Twitter. “Fishing is dangerous work but is vital to Maine and the entire Gulf of Maine region. We should all be grateful for the risks and sacrifices our fishermen take to feed and sustain our communities. I would like to express my deepest condolences to the friends and families of those impacted by this heartbreaking loss.”
Patrick Keliher, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, echoed similar sentiments.
“I share the grief that grips our fishing community today in the wake of yesterday’s announcement that the search for the crew of the Emmy Rose has been permanently suspended. I want to express sincere condolences on behalf of everyone at the Department of Marine Resources to the friends and families of the four crew members, Jeff Matthews, Ethan Ward, Michael Porper and Robert Blethen,” Keliher said in a statement posted on Facebook. “We never take these losses lightly. I hope that all who are touched by this tragedy will be able to heal in time and will take this moment to hold loved ones close, and to give thanks for the memories of those we have lost and for what we have.”
This is not the first tragic incident for the Maine fishing community this year. Two other Maine commercial fishermen, Capt. Joe Nickerson and crew member Chris Pinkham, died in January when the Hayley Ann sank off the coast of Portland.
Gerry Cushman, a lobster and halibut fisherman from Port Clyde, told the BDN that fishing accidents reverberate throughout the state’s entire fishing community. They should reverberate throughout the entire state, as well.
“It makes you feel sick to your stomach,” said Cushman, who is credited with saving the lives of two lobstermen when their boat caught fire in 2016. “It happens more than you wish. It’s especially bad for the families.”
Emmy Rose crewmember Jeffrey Matthews’ daughter, Reyann Matthews, had a heart-wrenching interview with WGME when the search was still ongoing. She spoke about her father being the “best man I know.”
“He’s the type of guy that would take his shirt off his back for you,” Reyann Matthews said. “I mean, since I can remember, he’s just someone I can always look up to.”
A daughter found someone to look up to in her father, and now all of Maine has more people to look up to and look out for. Many people have already done just that, donating more than $74,000 to a gofundme page created in support of the families.
It is also important to recognize the search conducted by the Coast Guard and the heroic work done by these servicemembers throughout the year. The search covered more than 2,500 square miles, for nearly 40 hours, amid 35 mile per hour winds and 6- to 8-foot seas.
Despite these efforts, we have yet another tragic reminder that some of the wonders in the deep mentioned in Psalm 107 don’t just arrive at our local fish market or grocery store. We have access to them because there are brave men and women, like the crew of the Emmy Rose, who go down to the sea in ships. Their workplace environment is a hazardous one. There’s no working from home. They deserve our gratitude and support, in tragedy and in triumph.