The Night the New Bedford Scalloper Atlanta Sank
Nearly 150 fishermen who sailed from New Bedford have lost their lives at sea since 1912. The website Lost Fishermen From the Port of New Bedford pays tribute to each of them with a brief synopsis of what happened to them.
There are many reasons why a seemingly sturdy vessel might set out to sea but not return. Weather is often a factor. Sometimes, mechanical failure or human error will cause a ship to sink. Other times, we never know why.
The maritime law firm Schechter, Shaffer, and Harris says, "Commercial fishing employees are faced with hazards of every kind." The firm says, "From temperature, weather, and chemicals to working at height, slips, falls, and fatigue, the threats commercial fishermen face are anything but typical."
The 72-foot New Bedford-based scalloper Atlanta capsized and sank on Saturday, December 13, 2003, while fishing some 27 miles south of Chatham. Three of Atlanta's crew of seven were lost that night 20 years ago.
The Coast Guard determined Atlanta may have had too many scallops on its deck, causing it to roll over.
Following the sinking of Atlanta, fisherman George Carvalho told the Standard-Times, "There were about 12 boats (in the area), and everybody was loading up because of weather."
Carvalho was about four miles away on another boat when Atlanta sank. He recalled, "So when it gets that bad, you load up (with scallops on deck) enough to go behind the lee behind Nantucket."
Carvalho said, "I was going to go. We were all going."
Once behind the lee, the fishermen, protected from the weather, could shuck scallops while waiting to return to fishing.
The crew members lost when Atlanta went down were identified as 33-year-old Francisco "Frank" Pereira of New Bedford, the ship's captain, 45-year-old Kenneth "Dana" Toolis of New Bedford, and 35-year-old Stephen M. Viator of Acushnet. The Coast Guard was never able to locate Viator's body.
Ernie Silvia, Fabio Bolarinho, Gilbert Bonnie, and Flavian Hernandes were rescued that night and treated for hypothermia the next day.
The Atlanta was less than a year old when it sank.