Commercial fisherman charged in scuttling

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The Coast Guard in March 2003 launched a search-and-rescue mission off California after a 73-foot fishing boat was found sunk, and authorities were told a man was living on board as a caretaker.

The Coast Guard in March 2003 launched a search-and-rescue mission off California after a 73-foot fishing boat was found sunk, and authorities were told a man was living on board as a caretaker. The owner of the boat, a commercial fisherman, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles in October for deliberately scuttling the vessel and lying to authorities about it.

Ahmet “Turk” Artuner, who is 56 and from Ferndale, Wash., was named in a five-count indictment charging him with deliberately sinking a vessel, polluting, and making false statements that led to an unnecessary Coast Guard SAR operation, according to a statement by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Coast Guard responded to an EPIRB signal March 29, 2003, about three miles southwest of Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard, Calif. Authorities at the scene found floating debris that indicated the name of the vessel, Junior. When the Coast Guard contacted Artuner he reportedly told them he was unaware of the sinking, and that a man was living aboard Junior as a caretaker.

The Coast Guard then launched a search for the man, which it later called unnecessary, the indictment alleges, because no one was on board. Authorities also claim Artuner said he was in Washington state at the time of the sinking but that he actually was in California.

Following an investigation, authorities reportedly determined that Artuner had willfully scuttled Junior and attempted to cover it up. Although prosecutors say his motive is unclear, they reportedly speculate Artuner may have sunk his boat because he had unpaid dock fees or because of the vessel’s squidding permit, which apparently cannot be transferred unless the owner can show their vessel has been destroyed.

Last June Artuner ran into more trouble when he was caught commercial fishing in the closed waters of the Nushagak Commercial Fishing District of Bristol Bay near Dillingham, Alaska. Artuner pleaded no contest, and was fined $4,000 and placed on probation for three years, according to Alaskan authorities.

If convicted of all five counts in the indictment, Artuner faces a maximum sentence of 26 years in federal prison, according to the Department of Justice. Artuner’s attorney didn’t immediately return requests for comment.