The owner of a Portland-based fishing vessel that sank off Cape Cod in November is asking a court to declare that it’s not liable for the sinking that claimed four lives.

The 82-foot Emmy Rose sank roughly 22 miles northeast of Provincetown, Massachusetts, where 30-knot winds were whipping up 6- to 8-foot waves. The vessel had been near the end of a multiday trip to catch haddock and other groundfish and was carrying its catch to Gloucester, Massachusetts, when it sank on Nov. 23.

The filing in federal court in Maine seeks a declaration that the sinking and deaths were not caused by any defect on the Emmy Rose or any action or inaction on the part of the owners, so they should not be liable for damages.

The court documents list the owner of the vessel as Boat Aaron & Melissa. The federal fishing permits for the Emmy Rose are held by the same Westbrook-based company. Bartley McNeel of Westbrook is the president of the company, according to filings with the Maine Secretary of State’s office.

The company also owned the Aaron & Melissa II, which sank in a storm with gale-force winds in November 2018 about 70 miles south-southeast of Portland. The four crew members abandoned the boat, got in an inflatable life raft and were rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter.

The filing indicates that no lawsuit has been filed in connection with the sinking, although it’s anticipated that a claim or claims will be filed by the families of the men who died.


The Emmy Rose left Portland on Nov. 18 with Robert Blethen, the captain, aboard along with a crew of Jeffrey Matthews, Ethan Ward and Michael Porper. Porper was from Massachusetts and the other men were from Maine.

The men were remembered as experienced and hardworking fishermen who left girlfriends, wives and children. Their deaths stunned the Maine fishing community, which gathered for vigils on Portland’s fishing wharfs and raised money to help their families.

The filing said the owners kept the Emmy Rose “seaworthy, tight, staunch, strong and fit.”

According to the filing, there were no indications of any problems on the trip and the crew indicated on Nov. 22 that the boat was heading to Gloucester. But at about 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 23, the vessel’s emergency beacon activated when the boat was about 22 miles northeast of Provincetown.

Emergency beacons send an automated signal when a vessel capsizes or sinks. There was no distress call on the radio, indicating the crew had no time to react to the emergency.

The Coast Guard used vessels and aircraft to search for the boat but found only debris and an empty life raft. The Coast Guard ultimately called off its search and said the crew was lost and presumed dead.

Attempts to reach David Smith, the Salem, Massachusetts, lawyer who filed the request for a declaration, were not successful Friday afternoon.

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