Shrimp boat runs aground; man jumps overboard

Man missing after jumping off boat in Atlantic Beach found safe

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. - A shrimp boat will spend another low tide stuck in the sand at Atlantic Beach after the man operating it ran aground and then jumped overboard Monday night.

Crews spent Tuesday trying to get the vessel, "Joe Bip," out to sea, but will have to wait at least until Wednesday.

Kenneth Thomas was operating the boat when it ran aground with a net caught in the wheel.

Thomas jumped in the water when police came, but was reported safe hours later. The Coast Guard searched for him for about 10 hours.

IMAGES: Shrimp boat on beach

"The cops got him onshore, and then nobody knew how to turn the boat off, and the boat was just sucking up sand and was probably going to destroy the beach environment putting off gas or something," witness Adam Hansford said. "So the cops went on deck to try to turn the engine off. No one knew how, not even the first mate. So they had to get the captain to turn the boat off. So as the captain was directing the police officer to turn the boat off, he dove in two feet of water and started swimming."

Thomas' friend Mary Sansoucie said she doesn't know why he may have jumped or gotten stuck, but said he'd been working for more than 12 hours.

"I'm thinking he may have fell asleep and they coasted up on the beach, is what I'm thinking," Sansoucie said. "I haven't gotten to talk to anyone yet, but that's usually about the time he drops anchor if he's out fishing."

Atlantic Beach police questioned Thomas, but there's no word on what, if any, charges may be filed. They said that will be decided once evidence is presented to the state attorney's office.

In the meantime, the boat's owners spent the day unsuccessfully trying to pull the boat back in the water.

"We tried it ourselves with another small boat, and it's just a little bit more than we expected," said Vernon Potts, whose family owns the boat. "So now we're waiting for the tide to come in tomorrow and have another company come in and tow the boat off."

The next high tide comes around 4 a.m. Wednesday, but the family will be waiting much longer than that. Their goal is to get it back out into the water around noon for high tide.

The owner said it's expensive to have the boat towed, but the family is fortunate it's covered by insurance.

Potts said because the boat is fiberglass, it won't sustain too much damage. And overall, he's pretty understanding of the situation.

"This ain't the first thing, first time I saw this happen," Potts said. "People working long days, working nights and days, you know, it's going to happen."

Coast Guard pollution investigators were headed to the scene to check for signs of pollution as a result of the grounding.

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