In January 1999 the North Atlantic commercial fishing industry saw a deadly string of accidents. In a 13-day span, the Cape Fear, the Adriatic, and the Beth Dee Bob were lost at sea off the coast of New Jersey. In all, 10 men died, five never to be found.

Commercial fishing is widely known to be a dangerous way to make a living. But even in a profession known for its hazards, three ships lost in such a short period of time is extraordinarily rare, particularly when all three were from the same docks.

Investigations revealed the following facts about the three separate tragedies:

  1. None involved a hull breach.
  2. All three ships were piloted by veteran captains with 10 years or more in the wheelhouse.
  3. All three ships were near the end of their journey, less than 15 miles from home.

So what happened?

Two of the three ships were carrying too much weight, and one was carrying its weight improperly.

Commercial vessels on the water in early January are mostly clam boats, as ...

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