The U.S. Coast Guard and the FBI are looking into the suspicious disappearance of an American scientist from a vessel off the coast of Peru.
According to CNN, marine biologist Keith Davis, 41, was aboard the Panamanian-flagged Victoria No. 168 to make sure the captain and crew adhered to international fishing guidelines. On Sep. 10, the Victoria reported Davis missing when the vessel was about 500 miles offshore.
The Victoria is a transshipment vessel, which means that it collects catches from smaller fishing boats and takes them to shore.
Davis was on board as an inspector-observer for the Marine Resources Assessment Group (MRAG), one of the global organizations charged with ensuring that fishing vessels are operating within the bounds of international law. Inspector-observers record the type and number of fish that fishing boats take in, what other species of marine life are being impacted by the fishing operations and other concerns aimed at protecting the ecological balance of the oceans.
Inspector-observers have no enforcement powers, but are required by law to document and report any violations they see and hand them over to law enforcement officials.
On Sep. 10, Davis failed to report to sign off on a haul of fish from another vessel, said Michael Berkow of the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, which is working with the FBI on the case.
“He’s just gone,” said Berkow.
Family members say that they have received shifting accounts of the circumstances around Davis’ disappearance. Inspector-observers sometimes have combative relationships with fishing crews due to their regulatory position.
“Every observer who has been doing it for very long has a story,” said Alfred “Bubba” Cook of the Association of Professional Observers.
Davis had been on board the Victoria with its Chinese captain and crew for about three weeks, his family says. The scientist was an experienced sailor with more than two decades of experience on all types of seagoing vessels and had operated under all types of conditions.
His father said that Keith wrote in an email that he did not feel safe aboard the Victoria. Family members are skeptical of reports from the Victoria’s crew that Davis met with some sort of accident.
“He’s not the type of guy who’s just going to fall off a boat,” said cousin Melanie Fletcher to CNN. “He’s the type of guy who watches to make sure no one else does. He’s a very smart, resourceful, MacGyver-type guy.”
“First we were told he fell and hit his head. Then were told ‘we don’t know,'” said Fletcher.
The Victoria arrived in port in Panama on Sunday and was met by a delegation of U.S. investigators and Panamanian officials.
According to an entry by Melanie Fletcher’s husband Jeff on a Friends of Keith Davis Facebook page, Keith Davis’ father John reported:
“The boat was boarded by the Panamanian authorities. They then let an American Tech investigator onto the boat, not sure how thorough they were allowed to be. The American authorities were allowed to download ‘some’ of Keith’s laptop but not all before the Panamanians seized all of his belongings (including his mandolin). The American authorities have a person of ‘interest’ but have at this time NOT been allowed to interview. Doesn’t sound like the Panamanians are being as cooperative as we were hoping. It would be irresponsible of me to call this a ‘coverup’ of sorts however I am at a loss to call it otherwise. This is where perhaps media coverage could help put pressure on them to cooperate more fully. BTW the boat is being cleared to leave soon with less than a satisfactory investigation in my opinion. Keith deserves better, his family deserves better and his colleagues in the field risking their lives everyday deserve better.”