Boat was on its way home when it sank

November 4, 2009 8:41:21 AM PST
A scallop boat that sank off the New Jersey coast in March, killing six of the seven crew members on board, was supposed to return to port that same day, its owner said Tuesday.

Capt. Royal Smith Sr. broke down at a Coast Guard hearing as he testified that the Lady Mary was just a few bags short of what its crew wanted to get from the sea before heading back to its berth in Cape May. The Bayboro, N.C., man lost two sons and a brother in the tragedy.

"They were supposed to be coming in Tuesday," he said, referring to the morning of March 24 when the scallop boat went down 60 miles off the coast of Cape May after nearly a week at sea.

Smith became emotional and was unable to continue, prompting a recess in the hearing. He turned away from the Coast Guard officers sitting at a long table, and rocked back and forth from foot to foot, wiping his eyes.

It was the second time Smith broke down while discussing his sons, Royal Smith Jr. and Timothy. He also was unable to continue for a time when he first testified before the Coast Guard panel in May.

The hearing was recessed for the summer to allow dive teams to recover evidence from the sunken boat.

Smith's lawyer said he thinks the vessel was struck by another boat, which left the scene. That scenario is one of several the Coast Guard is evaluating.

After regaining his composure Tuesday, Smith recalled several incidents when boats came perilously close to his, possibly unbeknownst to their captains.

"There might be a boat steaming right for you and there's no man in the wheelhouse," he said. "I had that happen more than once."

Smith testified that the boat's dredge, found with the sunken ship, had 10 to 12 bushels of scallops in it. He said the crew said they wanted to get a bit more before heading back to Cape May. "It was a good catch," he said ruefully.

On Monday, a Massachusetts boat captain testified he thought he heard a faint mayday call come over the radio early on the morning of May 24. But he said he did not call the Coast Guard because there was no further word, and no response to his inquiry to other boats in the area.

The hearing is to resume Wednesday.

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