The last black commercial fishing family in Mesic, NC is lost to the sea

From the Associated Press

Relatives seek recovery of 4 NJ fishermen’s bodies

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Relatives of four fishermen missing off New Jersey’s coast said Thursday they have hired a private dive team to search the sunken wreck for the bodies of their loved ones.

This photo released by the U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday March 24, 2009 shows the fishing vessel Lady Mary, left, moored in Cape May Harbor, N.J. on May 12, 2004. The Lady Mary, a 71-foot scallop boat sank at about 5 a.m. on Tuesday march 24, 2009 with seven people aboard about 75 miles off the coast. Only one crew member was conscious and alert when he was plucked with two others from the water by a helicopter. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard, Seaman Daniel Kehlenbach)

The Coast Guard wouldn’t say whether it will search the submerged scallop boat owned by a North Carolina man. But relatives of the victims said that determining whether the bodies are inside the vessel is their top priority.

A private diver is on standby if the Coast Guard decides not to search, they said.

“We need to know,” said Jack Smith, whose two nephews died in Tuesday’s accident.

Only one of the seven crew members of the Lady Mary is known to have survived.

The Coast Guard called off the search Wednesday night, 37 hours after it first responded to an emergency radio beacon from the 71-foot scallop boat.

“We conducted our search and rescue operation for any remaining survivors, but unfortunately we did not find any,” Coast Guard Lt. Gene Maestas said Thursday. “I can’t speculate where the Coast Guard will go from here or what our future actions might be.”

The extensive search failed to turn up any trace of Bernie “Tarzan” Smith, 59, and William Torres, both of Wildwood, N.J.; Frankie Credle, who had been living on the boat; and Frank Reyes of Cape May Court House, N.J.

On Tuesday, the bodies of Roy “Bobo” Smith Jr., 42, and his brother, Timothy “Timbo” Smith, 37, both of Middle Township, N.J. and Mesic, N.C., were recovered.

The sole survivor of the sinking was Jose Luis Arias, 57, a native of Chiapas state in Mexico who lived in Wildwood, N.J. and Raleigh, N.C.

In a three-hour interview with the Coast Guard on Wednesday, Arias was unable to shed much light on what might have caused the sinking.

Maestas said Arias gave much the same account to Coast Guard investigators that he gave to The Associated Press: that he was awakened by Tim Smith who was yelling that the boat was sinking, quickly put on a cold water survival suit he had next to his bed, and jumped off the deck into the ocean minutes before the boat sank.

Arias speculated that the boat might have listed from the weight of a net full of scallops being hauled aboard, but acknowledged that was just a theory. The lack of other survivors is making it more difficult to piece together what happened to the boat, Maestas said.

The Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety board are looking into it, Maestas added.

In the meantime, relatives and friends mourned the dead.

Funeral services for the Smiths were scheduled for Monday afternoon at the Eastern Missionary Baptist Association Building in Grantsboro, N.C., said Smith family spokesman Booker T. Jones, who also is mayor of the Smiths’ hometown of Mesic.

The Smiths and Credle were known widely in Pamlico County, N.C., where they grew up and learned to fish. Jones said the Smiths were the last black commercial fishing family in Mesic, which has no business district and consists of a church, a town hall and houses and mobile homes. Between 100 and 150 people attended a prayer vigil Wednesday night at the church.

“People came out to pray for a miracle,” Jones said. “One heart bleeds, and they all bleed.”

Jones can relate to the families’ pain in a unique way: Frankie Credle’s brother was aboard a fishing boat in the 1970s when Jones’ brother was knocked overboard and drowned in Ocracoke Inlet off the coast of North Carolina.

“He was lost for 30 days,” Jones said. “That’s agony. I just pray that these are found sooner than that.”

Associated Press Writer Estes Thompson in Mesic, N.C., contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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