Environmental

Distraught Alabama charter boat captain commits suicide

An Alabama charter boat captain, distraught over the oil slick that is causing large-scale destruction of fish and marine wildlife along the Gulf coast, has apparently taken his own life. William Allen Kruse, 55, of Foley, Alabama, was found dead on his boat with a gunshot to his head Wednesday morning around 7:30 a.m.

Kruse operated his charter service out of Gulf Shores. Like many vessel operators and fishermen whose regular way of life was destroyed by the oil spill, he wound up on BP’s payroll as one of the cleanup and containment workers.

Baldwin County coroner Stan Vinson told the Los Angeles Times that Kruse “had been quite despondent about the oil crisis.”

Kruse reported for work Wednesday morning at the Gulf Shores marina, where he met with his two deckhands. Kruse was about to pull his boat, The Rookie, around to the gas pumps while his deckhands collected ice.

According to the deckhands, they heard a noise that sounded like a firecracker while they were gathering ice, but they didn’t make anything of it. But when Kruse failed to appear at the pumps, the deckhands went looking for the boat and found it moored where they had left it.

The deckhands found Kruse’s body on the captain’s bridge above the wheelhouse. He had been shot in the head. Investigators say they don’t suspect any foul play took place. A Glock handgun was later found on the boat.

Vinson told the Los Angeles Times that Kruse was in good health and that he did not suffer from any mental illnesses. Nor did he take medications to treat mental illness.

But Vinson told the Los Angeles Times that “it’s not surprising the oil spill had weighed heavily on his mind, as it has on many local fishermen no longer able to support themselves with deep-sea sport fishing trips for marlin and the like.”

“All the waters are closed. There’s no charter business anymore. You go out on some of the beaches now, with the oil, you can’t even get in the water,” Vinson said. “It’s really crippled the tourism and fishing industry here.”

The tragedy reflects the sadness and desperation of Alaskans whose livelihoods were destroyed by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. As in the Gulf, thousands of Alaskans were directly and deeply connected to the bountiful sea and coastal ecosystems of Prince William Sound.

But when the Valdez ran into a reef and spilled millions of gallons of oil into the pristine waters, life in and along the Sound was ruined. Overnight, the clean, salty air turned into noxious fumes. Healthy birds, otters, seals, and other marine life struggled and suffocated under a toxic sludge. The once vibrant shores were awash in black.

The damage to Prince William Sound was so extensive that Bob Van Brocklin, then-mayor of the hard hit town of Cordova and a generational fisherman, took his own life after watching his community suffer years of ecological and financial wreckage. Brocklin’s suicide note mentioned Exxon and the company’s destruction of his community.

Last month, we posted about the Louisiana fishermen who found the crisis on the Gulf so dismal and the desperation so palpable that they were also struggling with suicidal thoughts.

“Really, it’s more than a lifestyle,” Lafitte, Louisiana resident Michelle Dauenhauer told BP. “When you tell a shrimper that they can’t trawl anymore, can’t fish anymore, it’s like telling an artist they can’t paint anymore.

“Just as a dancer needs music, we need that water.”