Nfld. & Labrador

Captain of scorched fishing vessel mourns loss of 'dream' boat

"She ... turned into a nightmare."

Challenger Traveler sank last Friday after catching fire

The crew of the Challenger Traveler had to be rescued after their fishing vessel caught fire on Friday night. (DFO)

It's been three days since Stan Bennett and his crew were rescued safe and sound after issuing a mayday from their burning fishing vessel, and now they're trying to figure out how to best chart their new course forward.

"Right now, looking back, it still seems unreal ... it's something I never want to go through again." says Bennett.

But while relief abounds, so too does uncertainty.

According to the Coast Guard, the 63-foot Challenger Traveler — which Captain Bennett, and his brother Derwin, used as a crab fishing boat — burned to the water line and sank following a dramatic evacuation on Friday.

For Bennett, there's a bit of deja vu.

In 2012, on the day of his father's funeral, his family's shrimp boat sank while docked in St. John's.

"This spot here never did bring us much luck," he said.

"This is where our boat sank six years ago … and then six years later, we leave that spot on Friday morning, and we head out fishing from that exact same spot."

Lost valuable equipment

Two years ago, Bennett acquired the Challenger Traveler, and it had everything he could have hoped for as a fisherman.

"She was our dream boat that turned into a nightmare," he said. 

Brothers Derwin (left) and Stan Bennett are happy to be back on land after a scary night at sea on Friday. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

For the first time, he had a boat with refrigerated seafood tanks, which are used to preserve the catch while still offshore.

"Over 20 years since we started [catching] crab, we always wanted those RSW tanks."

But now, he's wondering when he'll next be able to get on the water.

"We're already in talks now to get someone to try to get our season caught up now and finish up this season and just see where life takes us from there."

Bennett's also looking for the fishing gear and cages he left behind on the ocean, where his crew had dropped 500 pots. 

The crew of the Challenger Traveler were forced to evacuate to a lifeboat under hazy conditions. (Submitted )

He has a general idea of where it is but no direct coordinates. 

"We have about $70,000 worth of gear right in the water but we're not sure where it is," said Bennett.

His vessel was covered by insurance, but getting a new boat isn't on his mind just yet.

"We probably will when the shock wears off," said Bennett.

For now, he's enjoying being on land, safe and secure. 

No pollution risk

Stan Bennett's brother Derwin, also on board Friday, survived another boat sinking  in 1997.

Fishing can be a dangerous operation, he said, and it's good to be prepared in case of emergency.

He too, feels relieved to be back on land. 

"It's just good to be home that's it. It's great to have all that behind you," he said.

The Canadian Coast Guard said Monday there is no pollution risk following the fire since the blaze consumed the fuel onboard. (David Horemans/CBC)

The Coast Guard, who handled the environmental assessment of the boat, said when the Challenger Traveler sank, the fire consumed all the fuel onboard the boat and there is no pollution risk. 

Officials said a minor non-recoverable oil sheen was reported on the surface of the water, but quickly dissolved and no more sheens were observed at the sinking site. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Terry Roberts