SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska




April 04, 2008

DUTCH HARBOR, Alaska ­ The Marine Board of Investigation into the Alaska Ranger casualty began Monday's session by taking testimony from Capt. Craig Lloyd, Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Munro. The Coast Guard (USCG) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Marine Board of Investigation convened the investigation on Friday, March 28, 2008.

The Coast Guard and fishing vessel Alaska Warrior recovered 46 of 47 crewmembers from the fishing vessel Alaska Ranger which sank 120 miles west of Dutch Harbor March 23rd. Four crewmembers were reported deceased and one missing. The fishing vessel Alaska Ranger, based out of Seattle, began sinking at approximately 2:50 a.m. the morning of March 23, 2008 when it notified the Coast Guard that it had lost control of its rudder and was taking on water.

According to Lloyd's testimony Monday the Munro received the Alaska Ranger's mayday at 2:52 a.m.

Munro immediately made best speed to the Alaska Ranger's position, using their turbine engines, which propels the ship faster than the diesel engines. At 5:55 a.m. the Munro launched their helicopter. They were about 50 miles away.

Due to the stops they had to make to accommodate helicopter operations they did not reach the scene before the helicopters and the Alaska Warrior picked up the crew of the Alaska Ranger.

The MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter was unable to lower the survivors they had on board to the Alaska Warrior due to icy decks and rigging in the way of the basket.

The helicopter radioed at 6:12 a.m. to the Munro that they were en route with survivors that needed emergency medical care.

At 6:44 the helicopter crew began lowering survivors. Of the 12 survivors onboard the helicopter nine were ambulatory and three were non-ambulatory. As the 12th member was lowered the helicopter crew passed that that was the last survivor on board.

The MH-60 helicopter began to conduct in-flight refueling (HIFR). Usually this operation takes 15 minutes and the ship stays at minimal speed.

The Munro broke off the HIFR with the MH-60 in order to dash to rendezvous with the HH-65 helicopter, which was fuel critical. The HH-65 landed on board with five survivors and 18 minutes of fuel left until splash down.   The MH-60 later returned with four more crewmembers onboard.

A total of 21 crewmembers were delivered to the Munro. One man was non-responsive; he was immediately taken to sickbay where the medical crewmen conducted CPR and intubated the crewman. CPR efforts continued for 45 minutes before the flight surgeon directed them to cease efforts.

The Munro departed at 11:00 a.m. when it appeared all Alaska Ranger crewmembers were accounted for.  At 12:35 p.m. Coast Guard District 17 North Pacific Rescue Coordination Center notified the Munro that one crewman still missing. The Munro returned to the scene and resumed search operations.

Lloyd said the discrepancy in numbers was noted during the flight operations but the crew was more focused on getting the helicopter refueled and back to the scene to rescue more crew.

The Munro conducted drug and alcohol testing on the helicopter crew as directed by District 17 NPRCC.

During the search for the missing crewman, Satoshi Konno, Lloyd said, "We saw a lot of debris. The MH-60 swimmer was lowered into the life rafts to check for survivors."

The lawyers for the Fishing Company of Alaska did question Lloyd for clarification on operations and the timeline of events.

Evan Holmes, of Neosho, Missouri, was next to testify. He was the factory manager on the Alaska Ranger and had worked on board the Alaska Ranger for about two years.  He was a shift leader and became the factory manager on the previous underway tri. Holmes worked a 12 hours on six hours off schedule.

According to Holmes it was about 2 a.m. and he had gone to the galley to watch a movie. The telephone began to ring in the galley. "I thought someone was playing with the phone," he said. Then phone in the kitchen portion of the galley was ringing too.

Holmes ran up to the bridge to see if something was going on but before he reached it David Silveira told them they were taking on water in the ramp room.

Holmes and Chris Cossich, both members of the emergency squad, made their way to the ramp room on the port side through the factory and the harbor generator room. They saw a foot to a foot and a half of water in the ramp room.

"We didn't have our boots on," said Holmes. Holmes had on tennis shoes and Cossich was wearing flip-flops. They did not want to go through the water to the portable dewatering pump next to the bench in the shop, but decided to in order to get the pump.  Holmes, Cossich, Indio Sol and another crewman began setting up the pump.

Before they fired up the pump the crew was directed to the wheelhouse to don survival suits by the Assistant Engineer Lundy. Holmes put the hose back inside the door, but left the watertight door open because more crewmen were coming up the stairs behind him. Holmes went through the house to make sure no crewmembers were still in any staterooms.
In the wheelhouse he donned his survival suit and heard the mayday call being made by Silveira, the Mate. Holmes confirmed what other crewmen have said that after donning their suits they rotated through the wheelhouse to stay warm until they abandoned ship.

Holmes said they took a roll call to make sure everyone was accounted for. He also stated the stern was sitting lower. A wave came over the stern and washed the nets into the sea.   After the wave came over the stern the ship took an "unnatural shake to it and a hard list to starboard," said Holmes. He said the vessel stayed rolled over to starboard.

"You got your normal rolls in the ocean, but it felt like a rogue wave that hit real hard and it shook," said Holmes.

Once the ship rolled the crew was directed by the Captain to launch the rafts. Holmes saw two of the rafts inflate in the water. They were tied to the rail, but one broke away.

Holmes said he was probably the fifth man in the water. He held onto the line to his raft at first, but waves began to pull him under so he let go.   "It was so strong pulling underneath," said Holmes. "So it was let go or drown right there."

He and two other crewmen hooked up to form a chain. A helicopter rescued all three; the helicopter crew tried to lower him to the Alaska Warrior, but decided it was too risky and delivered Holmes and the other crewmen to the Coast Guard Cutter Munro.

The board asked for more clarification on the factory operations, shipboard operations and the role of the Japanese fish master.  When asked what the role of the fish master was Holmes replied, "Find the fish!" The fish master also made sure the nets were set correctly and occasionally observed the factory operations.

When asked about the drug and alcohol policy Holmes said the company has a no tolerance policy. He also confirmed that a crewman had been let go at the end of the previous voyage for coming back to the boat smelling of alcohol and being obnoxious. He never observed anyone drinking at sea.

The lawyers for the company asked a few clarifying questions before Holmes was released.

Following Holmes testimony the Board called Gwen Raines, one of two National Marine Fisheries Observers who were he Alaska Ranger.

Raines made one short voyage to the Pribilof Islands before returning to Dutch Harbor.  She remarked that the fishing was unremarkable, but that there was a lot of ice around. She had just come from fishing in the ice so it didn't strike her as odd.

After returning to Dutch harbor to offload fish and change nets, the Alaska Ranger left on the fateful voyage.  Raines stated that the vessel had a port list at departure. She said the crew indicated the full fuel tanks tended to give the ship a port list. They explained to her that after some of the fuel was used up the vessel would even out. She said the list and steaming in the trough of the waves made for a miserable ride.

Raines was asleep in her rack when the phone rang. She answered and there was no one on the line so she proceeded to the wheelhouse to see if they had been trying to reach her.   When she reached the wheelhouse Silveira said, "This is bad ­ really, really bad." She heard Rodney Lundy, the Assistant Engineer, telling Silveira that there was water in the rudder room.

She saw Lundy and the emergency crew go below to partition off the areas that had flooding to save the ship. She said the Chief Engineer, Daniel Cook, wanted to prevent it from reaching the engine room.  Raines said the crew was gone at least 30 minutes. She became concerned about the duration they were gone.

Meanwhile on the bridge, Silveira was communicating to the Alaska Warrior and made the mayday call to the Coast Guard. He kept a five-minute communications schedule with the Coast Guard.

The engines started to sputter and the lights flickered. Shortly after that Silveira stated he had lost steering and the vessel was moving astern.

Raines had put on her survival suit and Lundy activated her emergency position radio-indicating beacon on the wrist of her suit. She had Lundy activate it because the gloves on survival suit did not allow her to do so herself.

She said she went to her raft assignment and when it was launched they couldn't see if it deployed. She called back to Silveira. He started to come out of the wheelhouse to assess the situation and the painter line to the raft parted.

On the other side the painter was still connected to the raft, but it was a long way down. She saw one man climb down. She attempted to do the same, but fell into the water. Once in the water she found the painter and pulled herself to the life raft. She said two of the Japanese technicians pulled her in. She did not watch the ship go down, but did listen to the conversations of others. They said the vessel sank in about 15 minutes.

Raines was asked about the condition of the vessel. She recalled a laundry list of safety items that she has to inspect to determine if she should sail on a vessel. She said several items on the list must be correct or she is not allowed to get underway on the vessel.  There are also discretionary items.  She was concerned with two items, but decided to remain on board and report the items later.

When asked about drills she said only one was conducted while she was onboard. It took place at 2 a.m. and consisted of the crew mustering and describing where they would be and what their duties were in such a situation. Raines said they never discussed abandon ship procedures.

The board inspected the survival suits from the Alaska Ranger's crew at the Dutch Harbor fire station today. Some minor damages were noted.

The Marine Board of Investigation began Tuesday's hearing by taking testimony from Makoto Oide, one of the technicians aboard the Alaska Ranger.

Oide, a Japanese national, spoke through an interpreter. He was an engine technician for about three years on the Alaska Ranger.

Oide testified that Satoshi Konno, the Japanese fish master, woke him up at 2:30 a.m. Konno told Oide told him there was a problem and to go check the rudder room. When Oide reached the rudder room the hatch was closed and he saw water leaking around the seal so he did not open it. He did hammer the hatch dogs closed to stop the leaking.

He closed the hatches to the fish chutes in the factory. They can be closed hydraulically but he was concerned that if power were lost the seal would not hold so he chose to close them manually.

Oide said he checked the engine room and there was water rising in the bilges. He checked the engine room four times before abandoning ship. Each time there was more water.

Oide drew a diagram for the board that depicted where a leak was in the bulkhead separating the rudder room and the engine room. There was a three to five centimeter weld missing around the refrigeration piping that passes through the bulkhead. On his fourth trip to the engine room the lights went out so he returned to the bridge to report to Konno.

On the bridge Oide donned his survival suit. It was a bit long in the arms and legs. Oide said he did see Konno fully don a survival suit. He went with Konno and the other Japanese crewmembers to the port side of the vessel to abandon ship.

He said Konno went first off the ship toward the life raft and directed him to follow. They held the painter line to the raft as they left the Alaska Ranger. Oide said he sustained some small cuts to the gloves of his suit from the line.

Once in the water Oide could hear Konno but could not see him. He made it to the life raft but Konno was not there. He thought perhaps he made it to another raft. Oide was the first witness to testify that Konno had his survival suit fully donned and that he abandoned ship.

Oide said there were fewer than 10,000 cases of fish in the number one and two freezer holds when the Alaska Ranger left Dutch Harbor to fish for mackerel. He is the first witness to testify that there was any fish onboard. Each case is said to weigh approximately 18 - 20 kilograms. The capacity of the number one and two freezer holds is 23,000 cases.

The second witness was Takamitsu Abe, also a Japanese national. Abe was the deck boatswain on board the Alaska Ranger. He instructed the crews how to sort the fish. He has been on the Alaska Ranger for four years. He has also served on trawlers in Japan. Abe has been commercial fishing for over 40 years.

Abe shares a room with Oide. Konno woke him up at the same time as Oide. He was with Oide throughout the duration of the incident.  Oide and Abe made four trips to the engine room during the incident.

He confirmed what other witnesses have testified, that after power was lost the Alaska Ranger took a starboard list. He also said the ship began to make way astern which forced the life rafts toward the bow.

When Abe was passing through the factory to the engine room the second time the ship was listing to starboard. He saw water coming into the factory through the fish chute on the starboard side. He used a hammer to close the chute. There were several inches of water on the deck.

Konno abandoned ship first from their group. Oide went next. An American crewman followed and then Abe.

When Abe abandoned ship he used the crook of his right arm to slide down the line to the raft. He said he didn't check the suit but he did get water in that arm and suspects the friction from the rope cut through the neoprene of the suit.

Abe also testified that there was fish in the number one and two freezer holds from the previous trip. Although he could not be certain how much fish there was, he said he had heard from the fish master that there were approximately 5,000 cases. 

The board reconvened Tuesday afternoon after taking testimony from Makoto Oide and Takamitsu Abe, two of the technicians aboard the Alaska Ranger in the morning.

The board began Tuesday afternoon's session by questioning David Morris of Pueblo, Colo. Morris was a processor onboard the Alaska Ranger since 2005.

Morris was responsible for stacking the full fish pans in the freezer, keeping a tally of the amount of fish onboard and what species they were. Morris said the Alaska Ranger had sailed from Dutch Harbor to catch yellowfin sole (previously reported as yellowfin tuna). After two days they returned to Dutch Harbor to change gear to fish for Atka mackerel. There were over 4,000 cases of sole onboard.

The rest of Morris's testimony reflected what other witnesses have said.

Following Morris the board called Eric Haynes, of Las Vegas, the cook aboard the Alaska Ranger. Haynes has been with the Fishing Company of Alaska since 1994. He estimates serving 2,500 to 3,000 days at sea. All but three weeks have been aboard the Alaska Ranger.

He took charge and got the crew organized to abandon ship.

Haynes went to the wheelhouse when the phones started to ring incessantly. He was told there was flooding. He went to the lower deck and "got people moving". When he retuned to the wheelhouse Dan Cook, the chief engineer, was doubled over and breathing very hard.

Haynes took muster for his raft - number three. All crewmembers were accounted for.

Haynes said his survival suit was a little small for him, tight in the shoulders. The crew donned survival suits in the wheelhouse. Due to the noise level they made the captain had the crew stand by their life rafts on deck after their survival suits were on.  

Haynes suggested rotating the crew through the wheelhouse to stay warm. He had three shifts rotate through. Each was in the wheelhouse for five minutes.

After the ship took a starboard list, 40 degrees Haynes estimated, the captain directed the crew to launch the life rafts. Some of the crew didn't know how. Haynes took a hold of the strap around the raft and using two gloved hands held the clip on the hook down while another crewman pulled the other end of the strap loose and the life raft was freed.

Once the rafts were launched Haynes said they "looked like a motorboat towing an inner tube." He said the rafts traveled toward the bow of the vessel.

Haynes and two other crewmen tried to pull the painter line of the life raft to pull it to them but there was too much strain on the line. He said the line actually cut through the gloves of his suit.

With the rafts inaccessible Haynes knew the crew needed to get off the sinking vessel. He directed everyone to the Jacob's ladders and to get in the water. "Let's get going guys," he said. "You're going in one way or another."

Haynes saw one life raft nearby and he jumped from the vessel in an attempt to intercept it. He was able to grab the painter line but it pulled him under the water for a few seconds. When he got to the raft he found Joshua Esa floating face down and immediately flipped him over.  Haynes was able to get into the raft, and with great effort and the help of another crewmember was able to pull Esa into the raft.  Esa soon revived and survived the incident.

There were ten men in the raft.  Haynes said they drifted in the raft trying to call out to the flashing lights they saw around them in the water. The seas became so rough that they had to close the raft to prevent water coming into it.

When they opened it the Alaska Warrior was outside. The crew of the Alaska Warrior hooked onto the raft. Haynes said that was the first time he was scared. The raft began to heave up and down, lurch around, tossing the men around. They called out to the Alaska Warrior to cut them free and let the Coast Guard rescue them.

Haynes grabbed onto a ladder from the Alaska Warrior and tried to climb up but the ladder was rising and falling with the seas, and threw him into the water.

"I thought I was gone," said Haynes. A wave picked him up and threw him back on to the ladder. Haynes said he put a bear hug on the ladder. The Alaska Warrior used the crane on board to pull the ladder on deck. He said once on deck he couldn't walk and one of the Alaska Warrior's crew, a Samoan, picked Haynes up and carried him to the galley on his back.

In the galley two women onboard the Warrior wrapped him in blankets and gave him coffee. He said he was shaking so much he couldn't hold the coffee cup.

By the time Haynes heard more of his crewmates being brought on deck he was ready to help. The crew used blankets and potatoes warmed in the microwave and wrapped in towels to warm people.

They attempted CPR on two of their crewmates (Haynes has been certified in CPR three times).  Their efforts were unsuccessful.

The board called Indio Sol of Everett, Wash. Sol has been a processor for eight and a half years. He's worked on the Alaska Ranger on and off since 2003.

Sol has had formal safety training and was part of the emergency squad. He was the first crewman off the vessel down the Jacob's ladder.  "I thought it would be like in drills but I went skipping like a stone," said Sol. He had shot forward toward the bow as soon as he hit the water. Sol did get into a life raft.

The rest of his testimony reflected what other crewmembers have said.

In the afternoon the board recalled Rodney Lundy, first assistant engineer on the Alaska Ranger. Lundy had been onboard the Alaska Ranger for 11 years.

The board asked for more detail into Lundy's experience and training in damage control. Lundy said his experience had been shipboard during drills.

The board proceeded to get more detail about the engineering systems ­ particularly the hydraulics. They confirmed the aft ballast tanks were full or "pressed" with saltwater.

The board asked about the Alaska Ranger's shipyard period in Japan. Lundy said he inspected the ballast tanks with the Coast Guard inspectors, yard personnel and the technicians.

Lundy said they had found one crack in the starboard forward tank and that it had been repaired. He also said that the dividing bulkhead between the stern ballast tanks was intact. Lundy said the shaft work and electrical had been redone two years before.

The board asked for more clarification as to what the chlorine log was that Lundy previously testified he was writing in when the alarm sounded.

The board also asked for clarification of the timeline of events. Lundy said the crew's discussions about the possibility of a rudder falling off originated with him. He had thought maybe the rudder had come off for that that much water to have flooded the ramp room. Later he realized that the jockey bar between the rudders was still in place so it could not have been a lost rudder.

The board was concerned specifically with how water flowed between the rudder room and the ramp room if the deck was tight.  Lundy said that there may have been penetrations beneath the transformers but he did not know how they were sealed.

The board asked Lundy if he had used alcohol during his time on the Ranger. Lundy said he had used alcohol in port and at sea but not on watch. He said he knew the company had a no tolerance policy. Lundy said he had never been drunk on watch.

The board ended the day with Karl Machalek, owner of Alpha Welding in Dutch Harbor.

Machalek's company has done work on the Alaska Ranger for many years. He has worked on 50 percent of the vessels in Dutch Harbor and all the Fishing Company of Alaska boats. In the last year the ship received a new factory in Japan. Alpha Welding helped work out the bugs in the hydraulic piping and installed new gratings in the factory.

They installed two watertight doors on the trawl deck and replaced gaskets in a few hatches. Work was conducted on the inner transverse bulkhead of the bow and the ballast tank in the forepeak. More work was scheduled in the forepeak but had not been completed. They have never done work to the watertight envelop of the ship - the outer hull.

Machalek also said the Fishing Company of Alaska was good about fixing problems on their vessels.

The Marine Board of Investigation into the Alaska Ranger began Thursday's testimony with Charlie Medlicott. Liam LaRue from the NTSB led the questioning.

Medlicott has been a Coast Guard civilian commercial fishing vessel examiner since 1993. He enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1985 and served on active duty until 1993. Medlicott served as a commercial fishing vessel examiner in Anchorage and has spent the last couple of years at Marine Safety Detachment Unalaska.

As an examiner he primarily deals with the safety equipment aboard such as life rings, life rafts, survival suits, fire extinguishers, emergency drills, etc. Medlicott stated that he primarily deals with what the Coast Guard terms uninspected vessels. He stated that in his estimatition the regulations for uninspected vessels are lower than inspected vessels. The safety regulations are laid out in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Medlicott has dealt with vessels ranging from a 32-foot gill-netter to vessels like the Alaska Ranger. He said that participation by fishing vessels in the Coast Guard's commercial fishing vessel safety program is voluntary. If a vessel is in full compliance they are issued a decal. That decal allows them to embark National Marine Fisheries Servers (NMFS) observers. Vessels over 125-feet in length are required to have 100 percent observer coverage when fishing. Vessels under 125-feet are required to have at least 30 percent observer coverage when fishing.

Medlicott conducted a commercial fishing vessel safety exam on the Alaska Ranger in mid-January. The exam took several hours. He said the vessel was in compliance and received their decal.

Medlicott did attend part of the yard period for the Alaska Ranger in Japan. He was there as a marine inspector trainee. He left before the vessel was taken out of the water.

Medlicott spoke about the Alternative Compliance Safety Agreement program (ACSA). "There are 60 or so vessels enrolled in this program," said Medlicott. He said the program came about after the sinking of the Arctic Rose and the Galaxy. Head and gut vessels were found to be engaged in production of ancillary fish products that meet the federal definition of a processing vessel.

According to Medlicott, the need to produce these ancillary products, like separating out roe, was driven to meet changes in the fishery regulations. To be a processor a vessel is required to be classed by a class society, like the American Bureau of Shipping, and meet the load line regulations. It became evident to the commercial fishing vessel examiners that these vessels were unable to meet that standard so the Coast Guard developed ACSA to enable the vessels to meet an alternative and equally high safety standard and continue to fish.  

NMFS records product codes when they are aboard a vessel. The Coast Guard uses the product codes that NMFS report to determine what vessels in the head and gut fleet were engaged in processing.

The process for inclusion in ACSA begins by an application and submitting to a preliminary inspection to verify the vessel complies with the "840 book" for ACSA. The 840 book was developed by key Coast Guard marine safety personnel in District 13 and District 17 as a guideline for conducting the ACSA inspections. "The intent was for these vessel's to be in compliance by January of this year, but that is not the case," said Medlicott.

During Medlicott's initial ACSA inspection of the Alaska Ranger he noted that the vessel needed to upgrade their life rafts to allow them to be launched by one person, they needed to update their addendums to their stability book and add Jacob's ladders or debarkation ladders.

Medlicott said the Alaska Ranger's next step was to go to dry dock.  The owners sent the vessel to dry dock in Japan. Medlicott said the Fishing Company of Alaska is the only company he is aware of in the ACSA program that has done dry dock overseas.

Medlicott testified that the Alaska Ranger was enrolled in the ACSA program and actively engaged in coming into full compliance. He did say the Alaska Ranger had outstanding items on their worklist but that they had been making good progress.

"All of their lifesaving equipment, all the stuff I'm required to look at was in full compliance," said Medlicott.

During the dry dock Medlicott and two qualified marine inspectors looked at ballast tanks, the life rafts, the stability book, firefighting equipment, watertight doors, factory high water alarms, sumps, they went down in the lockers that had previously been fuel tanks ­ standard dry dock items.

One ACSA requirement Medlicott cited was that any watertight doors on the main deck have to be quick acting. He stated Alpha Welding in Dutch Harbor, installed those doors when the vessel returned for dry dock.  

Medlicott said it was envisioned that eventually a third party with Coast Guard oversight would manage the ACSA program but that the Coast Guard would initially institute the program.

In order to stay in compliance a vessel must submit to an annual exam. The crew must complete a thorough set of drills annually in front of a qualified fishing vessel examiner and go to dry dock regularly; twice in five years not to exceed three years between dry dock periods.

Medlicott did say that said that some administrative control issues have hindered implementation of the program.  For example, he said there is " a lack of MISLE (the Coast Guard record keeping system) data on these vessels", exemption letters not issued in a timely fashion and Coast Guard entities that are outlined in the ACSA agreement are not working together to manage the program.

Medlicott said that as of January 1, 2008 he only knew of three vessels that were in compliance. "This has turned into a much bigger deal than initially anticipated." He said the amount of work and items identified on these vessels has never been done before.

Medlicott said that there have been no penalties for not coming into compliance by the January 1 date. He said if the vessels don't come into compliance with ACSA the vessels will either have to be classed and load lined or stop making ancillary products and remain a head and gut vessel. Medlicott has said that has not happened.

"I think potentially it's a great thing (ACSA)," said Medlicott. "I get nothing but positive feed back from the industry.

Following Medlicott the board interviewed Chief Warrant Officer Wesley Pannet of Marine Safety Detachment Unalaska. Pannet holds a laundry list of Coast Guard marine safety qualifications.

Pannet has been in Unalaska since July 2007. He deals primarily with port state control exams on foreign vessels arriving in Dutch Harbor.

Pannet has conducted inspections on the Alaska Ranger. He inspected steel work in the forward portion of the vessel over several days in January. He was verifying the quality of the welds.  Pannet said he saw more steel work that needed to be done and left that as a work list, not a deficiency.

The Marine Board of Inspection into the Alaska Ranger sinking will reconvene Saturday, April 5 in Anchorage at the Hilton Hotel Downtown at 8 a.m. They plan to speak to several Coast Guard personnel.



Investigation into Alaska Ranger sinking convened


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United States Coast Guard


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