Book

Book cover

In 2005, Bloomsbury USA published  Kugiya’s first book, called  58 Degrees North: The Mysterious Sinking in Arctic Rose, based on a three-​​part series that appeared in Newsday in June, 2001.  The series won Newsday’s Publisher’s Award that year and was also nominated by the papers’ editors for the Pulitzer Prize in national reporting, a category dominated by news of the 9/​11 terrorist attacks. Bloomsbury published the paperback version of 58 Degrees North in 2006, when the book was named a finalist for the Washington State Book Award.

From Publishers Weekly:

The subtitle of this Perfect Storm descendant is not entirely accurate: after an exhaustive search and rescue, the Coast Guard found no survivors (and only one body) among the 15 men aboard the Bering Sea trawler, but after an even more exhaustive investigation, they concluded that the probable cause was a combination of poor design, uncertain maintenance and too many inexperienced crewmen. Journalist Kugiya, who covered the 2001 tragedy for Newsday, occasionally aims at a kind of mythic drama (fishermen are “the last hunters, the last cowboys,” the kind of men “who wear their own severed fingers around their necks as lucky charms”), but his account, while highly readable, can be a bit jumbled. Narratives of events such as the attempts to examine the wreck with remote-​​controlled cameras are interspersed with biographies of the crew and facts about the American fishing industry. Even some of the stronger subsections have weak spots, such as the capsule look at WWII in the Aleutians that’s squeezed into a fine description of Dutch Harbor, the major Alaskan fishing port. But the portraits of the doomed fishermen-​​Capt. Dave Randall, Mexican immigrant Angel Mendez (seen mostly through the eyes of his widow), amiable drifter Eddie Haynes-​​grip and fascinate. The book isn’t flawlessly executed, but it’s bound to suck in maritime buffs.

From Kirkus Reviews:

An eye-​​opening tale of a modern maritime disaster and its tortuous aftermath. Less showy-​​but less gripping, too-​​than Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm, Newsday correspondent Kugiya’s account of the sinking of the Arctic Rose makes a sturdy companion. Like that of the Andrea Gail, the 15-​​man crew of the 100-​​foot-​​long Arctic Rose was a mixed lot: the assistant engineer was on the run from the law, the cook a decorated Vietnam vet, the first mate an adept student of the stock market. Most of the hands were young; some had survived drugs to become born-​​again Christians, others the Mexican desert to enter the US illegally. All were there to make anything but easy money; as Kugiya writes, fishermen in general are “the last hunters, the last cowboys, wage-​​earners walking the tightrope of waves and storms and freezing temperatures,” 15 times more likely to die on the job than police officers or firefighters, and the Arctic Rose was working the particularly dangerous but fish-​​rich Bering Sea. In the early morning of April 2, 2001, working an area nearly off the sea charts, the Arctic Rose sank “abruptly and swiftly,” and all aboard drowned. The Coast Guard soon launched an inquiry that would last two years and produce many hypotheses: for a time it was thought that the vessel, “built without blueprints by a Vietnamese fisherman on a rented piece of beachfront in Biloxi, Mississippi,” had come apart in heavy seas, then that a suddenly developing low-​​pressure front might have sent high waves and winds crashing into the boat from several directions at once. The eventual explanation, it turns out, was not so dramatic, attributed to human error, and the board of inquiry made 31 recommendations meantto improve the safety of commercial fishing vessels. Those recommendations, however, were “just that, mere suggestions,” and soon afterward the events of 9/​11 would divert the Coast Guard’s attention to port and coastal security. Solid investigative journalism, though of no comfort to anyone contemplating a tour aboard a factory ship.

From Library Journal:

In spring 2001, the Arctic Rose disappeared in the Bering Sea, 700 miles from land. Fifteen fishermen died, and only one body was recovered in what was the worst American fishing disaster in 50 years-​​one that sparked the most expensive Coast Guard inquiry ever. Based on a series he did for Newsday (Long Island, NY), Kugiya’s first book provides biographies of all 15 fishermen and the investigators while also probing the checkered history of the boat and the events surrounding the loss. Sympathetic to the difficulties that fishermen face but not sentimental, Kugiya puts a human face on an assortment of drifters, illegal aliens, and small businessmen, all hard-​​working men who turned to the sea for escape or a means to a new start. An intriguing look into one of the most dangerous occupations in America; recommended for subject collections and public libraries.