By Christina Elmore
Fourth-generation shrimper Rocky Magwood's troubles showed in the lines of his face as he peered at his family's shrimp boat at Shem Creek Wednesday afternoon.
It's been a horrible season. Sparse profits at times forced Magwood, 37, to barter shrimp for fuel just to keep his family's business above water.
He questioned how he would manage to survive the latest blow that came overnight Wednesday when his 70-foot vessel the "Lady Eva" took on water and sank in Shem Creek.
"This has been my family's livelihood and it could be a complete loss," Magwood said from the pier at Wando Shrimp Co., where the boat was docked.
A crew member was living on the boat when it began taking on water, Magwood said. According to American Red Cross spokeswoman Lisa Quick, the organization will provide that man with financial assistance, a three-night stay at a hotel, food, clothing and other necessities.
Authorities offered no theories Wednesday about what caused the boat to sink. Members of the Coast Guard remained at Shem Creek through the afternoon investigating the situation.
Petty Officer Patrick Schwab said the Coast Guard was first notified about the sinking vessel around 2:20 a.m.
"Our initial concern was search and rescue at that point," Schwab said.
Their worry diminished when investigators learned that the shrimp boat was tied to a nearby pier and no one was trapped or in need of saving, Schwab said.
Magwood said it was too early to tell whether the vessel could be restored. "Lady Eva" is one of two shrimp boats that Magwood owns. His family purchased the boat in 1971.
Magwood said his family owned nine vessels as recently as 15 years ago. But demand decreased over the years as the community began importing seafood in greater quantities, he said.
Profits were further stricken recently because of the year's rainy spring. Magwood theorized that the excess in water washed the area's shrimp larvae farther out to sea.
In a good year, "Lady Eva" could bring in as much as $50,000.
"We probably didn't even make $15,000 this year. ... How am I going to come back from this," Magwood lamented. "How am I going to fix that boat so I can get back out and fish next year?"
The likelihood of salvaging "Lady Eva" diminished the longer she remained underwater, he said.
Crews planned to pump water from the boat around 2 p.m. when the tide was expected to be at its lowest.
Magwood and his girlfriend, 32-year-old Mary Farmer, expressed frustration that the water wasn't pumped when Coast Guard officials first arrived at the scene.
To Farmer, officials were more concerned about fuel leaking into the creek than they were about saving the vessel.
"No one was stuck in the boat, so (Coast Guard officials) just stood there and watched it sink deeper into the water," Farmer said. "When the Fire Department goes to a house fire they don't say, 'Hey, no one's in it. Just let it burn.'"
Petty Officer 3rd Class Anthony Soto declined to comment on Magwood's frustrations, but said Coast Guard officials were initially advised that the vessel was already sinking, if not sunk.
"Our objective was to determine if there were any lives in danger and if there was any pollution," Soto said. Resources and salvaging businesses are available to help restore the vessel if need be, Soto said.
In a news release, Coast Guard officials said pollution responders were dispatched at the creek to determine if hazardous materials were seeping from the boat.
Crews learned that the vessel contained little to no fuel, the release said.
Officials surrounded the boat with padding to capture any residual pollution.
Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.