Fishing Boats In The Splashdown Zone
Albacore tuna fishermen nervously await Mir Space Station's re-entry SOUTH PACIFIC OCEAN - As the world awaits in nearly festive anticipation for Russia's Mir space station to burst through the Earth's atmosphere and explode into the South Pacific, over two dozen albacore tuna vessels have discovered they are splat-dub in the middle of the targeted splash-down zone. Most are ten days from land and unable to escape before Mir's arrival on Friday.
"Nobody warned us that a 140-ton space station would be smashing into the fishing grounds until last week," explains Wayne Heikkila, General Manager of the Western Fishboat Owners Association (WFOA). "We would have warned our members months ago if we'd heard about it before. Now our fishermen either have front seats to see the largest man-made object ever dumped onto earth... or a whole lot of trouble on their hands."
There is no way to tell exactly where the Mir will hit inside the splashdown zone, which encompasses a 380,000 square mile area in the remote South Pacific. An estimated 1,500 fragments will hit the water at a "terminal velocity" of 150 mph -- at a force said to equal 13 tons of dynamite -- and some chunks may weigh more than 1,000 pounds.
Meanwhile, the 27 WFOA vessels attempting to finish up a harsh South Pacific fishing season - 3 New Zealand, 3 Canadian, and 21 West Coast -based American boats -- are nervously transmitting text messages via satellite to friends and relatives at home.
"Vessels out here are debating whether to reduce our size as targets by having one last floating get-together on one boat, or spread the risk by spreading out," typed WFOA Vice President Stan Davis, who is fishing in the Mir zone aboard his San Francisco-based F/V Nightwind.
"This is the only time in my life when I've hoped that a little piece of heaven doesn't fall in my lap," Captain Barry Diehl tapped out from the F/V Alaska. Diehl is no stranger to shipwreck. In January 1997 Diehl and his crew aboard the F/V Defiance sank 1,200 miles south of Tahiti; fellow fishermen found them drifting in a life raft after receiving their last known coordinates from the US Coast Guard.
The floating community of high seas albacore fishermen caught within the Mir zone includes husbands, wives, sons and daughters working from small 65' - 100' vessels. Accustomed to sometimes deadly weather -- and the hardships and joys of the sea -- this time the jig boat fleet has been unhappily surprised by a space station. "The two young daughters of the Captain of the Wendy Seaa asked their father if they will ever have a chance to grow up or see shore again," Stan Davis typed. "Yet look on the bright side -- If we make it, we can get a 'MIR-2001 Crash Survivor' T-shirt made with a little flaming Sputnik on it."
Updates on the albacore fleet situation will be posted to the WFOA website at www.wfoa-tuna.org