A federal judge has divided $960,000 in insurance money among the families of four fishermen who died Nov. 23, 2020, when the Portland-based fishing vessel Emmy Rose sank off Provincetown, Massachusetts, in heavy seas and high winds.
The crew — Capt. Robert Blethen Jr., 41, of Georgetown; Jeffrey Matthews Sr., 55, of Portland; Ethan Ward, 23, of Pownal; and Michael Porper, 38, of Gloucester, Massachusetts — was never found.
The families agreed to a division on the insurance money, but U.S. District Judge John Woodcock said there wasn’t enough money available for the crew members’ pain and suffering.
Woodcock awarded each man’s estate $126,201, saying that each “died an unspeakably tragic and terrible death, each likely aware of his impending death while struggling to survive in a dark, cold, and angry ocean.”
The four men had five minor children entitled to a portion of the insurance money. The judge divided up $455,085 among the children for loss of support and loss of nurture based on their ages. Older children were awarded less and younger children more.
The remaining money went to reimburse one family for memorial expenses.
Woodcock said the men’s pain and conscious suffering was worth $200,000 each, more than the amount available.
The division of the insurance money had to be decided in federal court under the Death on the High Seas Act, which falls under maritime law.
Woodcock also released the vessel’s owners from any further liability related to the men’s deaths.
The 82-foot Emmy Rose left Portland on Nov. 18, 2020, according to Woodcock’s order, which was issued Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland. On the evening of Nov. 22, 2020, crew members said they were headed to Gloucester, Massachusetts, to unload their catch. At 1:30 a.m., Nov. 23, 2020, equipment on the Emmy Rose issued an emergency ping.
The air temperature at that time was 48 degrees, the water temperature was 50.5 degrees, the wind was gusting up to 26 knots and the seas were cresting at between 4.6 and 5.4 feet, the judge said. The Emmy Rose was equipped with survival suits and a life raft.
The vessel made no distress calls.
The U.S. Coast Guard searched more than 2,200 square miles over a 38-hour period, yet found nothing more than a debris field, diesel fuel odor, an emergency beacon and an empty life raft. It later issued presumption of death letters to the families.
The Emmy Rose was located on the bottom of the ocean northeast of Provincetown, Massachusetts, on May 21, 2021, but the vessel has not been raised. The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of its sinking.