Double trouble

Authorities are investigating what caused the shrimping boat "Lady Eva" to sink in Shem Creek on Dec. 17.

- After the Lady Eva sank at a Shem Creek dock in December, the community rallied in the wake of the latest shrimper tragedy, raising funds to help get a member of the revered Magwood family back in business.

Less than a month later, as the 70-foot shrimp boat was being towed to Savannah for repairs, the Lady Eva sank again off the Isle of Palms. The vessel had taken on water and broken two tow ropes, and had to be pulled out of the Charleston shipping channel and scuttled.

"It is just a nightmare, and I had to watch my boat sink again," Rocky Magwood said.

The sinking of the Lady Eva was another blow to the beleaguered South Carolina shrimping fleet.

It was an older, patched-up craft, but it was a working boat nonetheless, part of a fleet struggling to stay afloat as captains drop out one by one or scrape by catch-to-catch. And the past few seasons have been bad catch years.

Losing the boat, which the family bought in 1971, was another tough blow, Magwood said, adding that he had no choice but to scuttle the vessel.

"It just got overwhelmed," he said. "We dragged it off to Rattlesnake Shoals. That's where she's resting right now."

The boat first sank in Shem Creek on Dec. 17. A crew member aboard the Lady Eva had notified the Coast Guard about 2 a.m. that the boat was taking on water.

When the boat went down, the Coast Guard brought in a contractor to remove pollutants. Magwood was told to take any of his valuables from the boat, he said, leading him to believe the Coast Guard would scuttle it.

But that didn't happen.

"I thought this would be said and done," Magwood said at the time. "Now I'm stuck with the boat."

He patched up the Lady Eva enough to get it afloat again and wondered how he could pay for getting it to dry dock for repair.

On Jan. 7, Magwood ran two lines to the Lady Eva from the Winds of Fortune, a shrimp boat belonging to his uncle, Wayne Magwood. He planned to tow the Lady Eva to a dry dock in Savannah, he said.

The boat was still leaking, but he thought the patch would hold well enough. A storm had kicked up winds and swells, but they were forecast to die down by evening.

He didn't realize how rough the conditions would be later, he said.

The Winds of Fortune was towing the boat out of the shipping channel in the late afternoon when it began taking on water and the Coast Guard received a distress call.

"The first line broke and before we could come around to fix it, the second line broke," Magwood said.

Meanwhile, a container ship was just offshore approaching the channel, and the disabled shrimp boat was in its path.

A Charleston Branch Pilots Association boat was underway to bring a pilot to the container ship. At 7 p.m., after delivering the pilot, the boat turned back to get the Lady Eva out of the channel.

When the pilots arrived, the Lady Eva "appeared to be taking on water. It was certainly in compromised condition," said John Cameron, branch executive director. But it was floating and stable enough that the pilot boat could get a man aboard to attach lines and pull the vessel clear of the channel to the north, toward Isle of Palms. Then the crew helped reattach the Lady Eva to the Winds of Fortune.

By this time it was night. Fog had settled in thick enough that turning back was too risky, Magwood said. The Lady Eva was foundering badly.

He was left with little choice, Magwood said. The sinking boat was pulled to the shoals to keep it out of the way of shrimpers, who avoid that area, and scuttled.

The Coast Guard routinely investigates sinkings, and it's still looking into what happened to the Lady Eva.

Asked why the Coast Guard didn't respond to Magwood's distress call, Charleston sector Lt. Cmdr. Derek Beatty said the pilot boat had taken the Lady Eva out of the channel, and as long as a vessel isn't a hazard or blocking a channel, it's not the Coast Guard's responsibility.

Coast Guard officials did not respond to a phone call seeking information about what regulations, if any, govern the scuttling of vessels offshore.

The Post and Courier filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Coast Guard for incident reports related to the sinkings. Most of the information won't be released until the investigation is finished, but the Coast Guard did expedite some info.

That includes a report about a research vessel on Jan. 14 discovering two debris fields offshore, north of the channel and 24 nautical miles east of Mount Pleasant. The location is a little more than 15 miles from where Magwood said he scuttled the boat and in a direction that debris could have drifted from the shoals.

The debris included a plaque that read, "Lady Eva."

Things aren't getting any easier for the Magwoods. With their seafood business struggling, Wayne Magwood spent the winter in Florida trying to make ends meet. Rocky Magwood will run the Winds of Fortune for him this season.

"I'd love to own my own boat again, but that doesn't look like it'll ever happen," Rocky Magwood said. "I appreciate the people who have stood behind me. I am going to keep on shrimping. We're going to hang in there as long as we can."

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.