Penn Yan man saved from sinking Alaska fishing ship

Gwen Chamberlain

Jonathan Jensen was looking for field experience related to biology to add to his application to graduate school, and he wanted to find a little adventure while he was at it.

Well - he hit the jackpot when he signed on with the National Fisheries Service, a subsidiary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a division of the U.S. Dept. of Commerce.

Jensen, 31, a 2002 Penn Yan Academy graduate, was one of 46 men aboard the Alaska Juris in late July when the fishing vessel began listing after taking on water following mechanical problems in the engine room. He and the other 45 onboard abandoned ship and spent up to eight hours in life rafts before being rescued.

Jensen was onboard the 229-foot fishing vessel as a North Pacific Ground Fish Observer, charged with monitoring the catches, and ensuring the proper handling of fish that are returned to the ocean. Working 12-hour shifts, observers like Jensen conduct random sampling from the tons of fish that are hauled onto the ship.

What happened July 27 will be a tale he’ll share for the rest of his life.

Scheduled to begin his shift at noon, Jensen hit the “snooze” on his cell phone when it alerted him to wake up at 11:45 a.m. He didn’t need much time to get ready for work, because working on a fishing vessel is a job that requires you take a shower before you crawl into your bunk, he says, explaining his desire for just a few more minutes of rest.

But those few minutes were interrupted by yelling outside the bunk room he shared with two cooks and another fisheries observer. One of the cooks came in, shook the dozing cook in the other bunk and yelled, “Abandon ship!”

Jensen thought they were going through another drill of emergency procedures. They had recently picked up some new crew members, and procedures called for drills with new crew members. But, when he tried to turn on his light, there was nothing but dull black. There was no power. He began to suspect this was more than a drill.

He gathered the gear he knew he’d need, and headed to the muster station where they were instructed to gather. On the way, he overheard the captain sending out the Mayday call. That’s when he realized it was not a drill.

He put on his survival suit and activated the locator beacon issued specifically to him by NFS, and waited for further instructions.

When the captain said the vessel was listing and the crew needed to get off the ship while it was still safe, they launched life boats from both sides of the Alaska Juris. All of the boats were supposed to be tethered to the ship to keep everyone together for rescuers, but the single boat on the opposite side broke free and eventually drifted away from the sinking Alaska Juris. After about two to three hours, the 18 crew members in that boat were rescued.

Jensen and the other crew members who were in the other two boats stayed with the vessel for seven to eight hours before they had to cut away from the sinking ship.

Jensen credits the captain and experienced crew members with maintaining calm throughout the incident. “People didn’t panic because people didn’t panic,” he says. In fact, the captain quipped that the first round would be on him once they made it to port. That’s a promise the captain wasn’t able to keep because he was whisked away for questioning and a battery of tests as soon as he was rescued.

Jensen says all the details that were covered during his training were critical. From being equipped with the proper survival suit, designed to keep a person alive in the Bering Sea during January, to having drilled in procedures were instrumental in their survival. “Everything they covered in training came in helpful,” he says, explaining,  the only issue was a missing rung on the Jacobs Ladder — the 20 to 25 foot extension leading to the life boat.

Crew members spent the time in the life boats, which could hold either 20 or 25 people, napping or trying to not feel sea sick. He and three others in stretched to keep a hold of the other raft because there was no way to lash them together.

They were eventually picked up by another fishing vessel, the Ocean Peace, and taken to Adak, the nearest port with an airport — a 13 hour journey. There, because there were no aircrafts large enough to take all of the crew, they had to wait for multiple flights of eight people over two to three days.

Now, back in Penn Yan until mid-September, Jensen has plenty of experience to include on his graduate school application. He’s waiting for information about insurance coverage of the gear he lost, including a laptop computer, coveralls, boots, sampling gloves, clothing and books, and starting to plan his next adventure.

Will that adventure lead him back to the sea?“It’s one possibility, but that’s an adventure I’ve already had,” he says, adding, “I’ll go wherever I haven’t been before.”

He mentions Costa Rica, where cattle grazing lands are expanding into the rain forest. But he is also looking for other areas where he can explore his interest in the restoration of areas that have been challenged. “But maybe not the whole sinking ship thing,” he adds.

About Alaska Juris

The Vessel Alaska Juris is a fish factory ship built in 1975 and owned by Fishing Company of Alaska, based in Seattle, Wash.

The incident occurred about 700 miles off the Alaskan coast and 150 miles northwest of Adak Island.

 A salvage operation was launched July 28 to its last known position, approximately 41 miles northeast of Segula Island in the Rat Islands archipelago of western Alaska.

To see photos and video of Alaska Juris 

taken by Cal Kashevarof  visit