THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED TO REFLECT MORE DETAILS ABOUT THE RESCUE AND INVESTIGATION.
Three men out commercial fishing were injured, and a fishing vessel sank, in an early morning collision Thursday between three vessels off the coast of St. George Island.
According to a report from Coast Guard Sector Mobile, the office received word of three vessels colliding at approximately 3 a.m. Thursday morning about 30 miles south of St. George Island offshore near Satellite Station. The accident is believed to have happened about a half-hour earlier.
Melissa Smith, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the call to FWC came in at 3:46 a.m.
Both of the boats, the “Eli’s Inheritance,” a 31-foot Contender which does both charter and commercial fishing. and the “Humpty Dumpty,” which does commercial fishing exclusively, are owned by Capt. Tommy Merrell. He reported that the ships were anchored, and the crew asleep, when they were struck by a third boat.
“The Eli’s Inheritance” reportedly became entangled in a towline, according to the Coast Guard. A member of the Merrell family said the boat remains upside down in the water where the collision occurred.
All three persons aboard both fishing vessels are accounted for, and the “Humpty Dumpty” was able to return under its own power with flooding under control to Carrabelle. Seatow Carrabelle, captained by Capts. J.D. Betit and Eric Norberg was the first vessel on the scene, followed by FWC, which evacuated the injured deck hand. Seatow Carrabelle escorted the vessel in with extra pumps, to ensure it did not sink in the event the vessel’s pumps failed or were unable to pump out sufficient water.
The family member said the boat, as of Thursday afternoon, had been taken out of the water at Dockside Marina. Merrell said both of his boats were destroyed in the collission.
The third vessel, a 21-foot tug, Lady Terea, had been pulling two barges, and was last reported to be underway to Panama City for investigation.
The Coast Guard said it did not perform any medical evacuations, and that emergency services personnel were on the pier to respond to injuries to Kenny Parker, who along with Merrell and Adam Plouffe, had been aboard the Humpty Dumpty.
Merrell said all three members of the crew were taken to area hospitals, treated and release.
The family member said that a sheriff’s office’s boat captained by Brad Segree, as well as an FWC boat with four officers aboard, responded to the scene. Assisting from the air in spotting the capsized vessel was private pilot Doug Scarabin, with the assistance of FCSO, FWC and the Coast Guard.
The cause of the collision is under investigation, said the Coast Guard.Smith said that because the collision occurred in federal waters and involved commercial vessels, the Coast Guard would be responsible as lead agency for the investigation and for filing any subsequent criminal charges that might ensue.
The Coast Guard said it would provide further information once the investigation is complete.