A welding accident sparked a fire on a fishing boat on the Fairhaven waterfront

A welding accident sparked a fire on a fishing boat on the Fairhaven waterfront

A fishing vessel recently acquired by the owners of BASE Seafood Auction caught fire and burned on the Fairhaven side of the harbor early Thursday morning.

The 78-foot F/V Carrabassett ground fishing vessel was in the process of being decommissioned, according to Fairhaven Harbor Harbor Master Tim Cox, who was at the scene the morning of the fire and working with an environmental cleanup crew. He said the fire broke out because welders used a cutting torch to cut the boat’s tubes.

Welders were called to the fire just before 7 a.m., Cox said. Thick clouds of black smoke were seen rising over the harbor as firefighters from Fairhaven, New Bedford and Mattapoisett worked to extinguish the flames using hoses and foam fire suppression materials. The fire, which engulfed the entire cabin at its peak, was contained by about 8 a.m., Cox said.

Smoke billows from the F/V Carrabassett as firefighters douse the flames. Credit: Courtesy of Ed Pippin, Fairhaven Fire Department

“It could have been a lot worse,” he said, adding that there were six 55-gallon drums of flammable hydraulic fluid on deck at the time of the fire.

Cox said workers were in the process of removing the ship from service. Once stripped of pollutants, his owners had plans to dump them in the ocean and turn them into artificial reefs for marine life, he said.

The ship has had a checkered history, changing hands and making headlines several times in recent years.

It was recently acquired by Cassie Canastra, director of BASE Seafood Auction, and her business partner, Charles “Butch” Payne, a luxury homebuilder from Montauk, New York. It is one of eight vessels and 48 fishing permits they bought in a bankruptcy auction for assets formerly owned by the now-defunct Blue Harvest Fisheries.

Officials say the fire was started by welders who used a cutting torch. Credit: Courtesy of Ed Pippin, Fairhaven Fire Department

Blue Harvest Fisheries, until recently the largest groundfish company on the East Coast, closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy in September. Canastra and Payne purchased the ships and permits for $12 million in November.

Canastra and her family own and operate the Buyers and Sellers Exchange, also known as the BASE Seafood Auction, the only public fish auction in the port. About 65% of the country’s half-billion-dollar scallop trade is routed through BASE, she said in a 2021 interview with The Light.

The ship was part of the fleet once owned by New Bedford fishing magnate Carlos Rafael, also known as the “Codfather.” He was forced to sell his fleet after pleading guilty in 2017 to charges of falsely labeling fish, money smuggling, tax evasion and falsifying federal records. Blue Harvest bought the ship and 11 other vessels from Rafael in 2020 for $19.8 million.

Under Raphael’s ownership, the ship was named “Cowboy.” Blue Harvest repainted the ship from Rafael’s trademark sea green to a shade of royal blue and renamed her “Carrabassett.” It was renovated and launched by Blue Harvest Fisheries in 2020 — a move the company said at the time symbolized its mission to “invest in this city’s historic fishing industry.”

The ship made headlines later in November 2021, when the ship ran aground, in the predawn hours, off the coast of Truro. She remained on shore for five days until the tide rose enough to be towed back into New Bedford Harbor.

Canastra, the ship’s current owner, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Email Will Sennott at wsennott@newbedfordlight.org.

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