Michael L. DiGiovanni Born 1949 and died on or about January 25, 1977. He is buried at Calvary Catholic Cemetery at 11801 US Hwy 19 North, Clearwater, Florida.
Three sailors dead, but their story lives... in court from St. Pete Times February 1977
On January 25, 1977 two trawlers on their way to honduras disappeared from the surface of the Gulf of Mexico 35 miles SW of Boca Grande (near Punta Gorda) and the next day the bodies of three young men, the crew, were found amid a scattering of diesel fuel, oil drums and wreckage. Two were Michael and Phillip DiGiovanni of St. Pete and their friend Johnnie Stone. The deaths left the DiGiovanni family feeling more sense of robbery than loss. They feel that the vessels were not seaworthy and that promised help was not at hand. The US Coast Guard and the courts may settle the question of responsibility, but some lessons here should be obvious. Those three did not need to die.
In mid-afternoon on Tuesday January 25, 1977 within a 15 minute period the Coast Guard Air Station in St. Petersburg got two distress calls about boats taking on water. Both came over citizens band radio. Through experience, the Coast Guard has come to view emergency calls on CB network with a degree of suspicion: Those who broadcast and relay Maydays on CB channels tend to be unprofessional and undisciplined. They call in emergencies where none exist. Worse still, some are pranksters and that Tuesday afternoon, those things combined to help drown the DiGiovanni brothers and Johnnie Stone. The first Mayday was relayed from Coast Guard station Fort Myers Beach, which had taken telephone calls from people who saidy they had intercepted a CB channel 11 transmission from a vessel. Chatherine H. was taking on water 35 miles southwest of Boca Grande in the Gulf of Mexico. A second call came in that the pleasure boat Salty II was taking on water near the Courtney Campbell Causeway in Tampa Bay. The Gulf of Mexico is broad and deeply fickle, and the elements of chance conspire to place lives in danger often and without warning. The air station in St. Petersburg has lost it's own men in search of others.
A Coast Guard hearing was called. Two trawlers, the Catherine H. and the Ullysses were owned by a man named Red Hamilton, though he didn't seem to know much about them. Michael DiGiovanni had begun talking with him back in November about delivering the two boats to Belize. The FBI investigated but as in most maritime cases, they use the three-mile limit. Red Hamilton said he had talked with the brothers five or six times in the ten or so days he knew them. Peggy DiGiovanni who drove her husband Phillip and brother Michael back and forth to Punta Gorda where the Catherine H. and Ullysses were docked, said they worked on the trawlers there for 2 or 3 weeks to prepare them for the trip and they stayed in contact with Red Hamitlon by phone. Red Hamilton seemed not to know very much about the boats or their condition, or what equipment was on board. A CB radio, I imagine, or a VHF, he said, when asked what radio was on board. You don't know what kind of radio? said Earl Moffit, the DiGiovannis lawyer. No, said Hamilton. I gave them whatever they wanted, I gave them a CB radio, Hamilton said. It was their responsibility to make sure that the boats were seaworthy, not his. He brought a copy of a contract with him to the hearing. The contract called for the delivery of the Catherine H. and the Ullysses to Placencia Cove, Belize in return for $500 and return plane tickets home. It sets down two conditions: That we (the DiGiovannis and Stone have also made repairs to both vessels as to make them seaworthy.
The St. Petersburg air station scrambled a helicopter crew to hunt for the Catherine H the second the call came in said the Coast Guard spokeman. One decision was to send up a single helicopter. Lt. Stephen Helvig who was on station desk that afternoon said, we didn't really search on this like we knew there were really people out there, we made kind of a brief search. We would have made a bigger search if we had known for sure. The second decision was to route the helicopter by way of the Salty II's location in Tampa Bay. The Salty II call was apparently a hoax since no boat was found. However the search for the Salty II took 15 to 20 minutes of time. The helicopter continued south into the Gulf to search for Catherine H, but they were not found that afternoon. Had they had a VHF Radio and the Coast Guard could of talked directly to them, they would of had better information and could of 'home in' on their radio signal. The ship's wreckage was not found until the following day search.
One other important document was brought to the hearing by Red Hamilton. The DiGiovannis said they would leave on the morning of the 25th because the freighter "Raymar" would meet them six miles off shore at 5am and shepherd them to Honduras. Captain Rudolph Crimin of the Raymar said he made radio contact with Catherine H. at 4:45am and visual contact at 6am six miles off Boca Grande sea buoy. Crimin said he then went to sleep, when he woke just before noon the two trawlers were about six to eight miles ahead of him. After awhile one of the trawlers fell back along side the Raymar and a man named Phil was wearing a life vest. Phillip said they were having engine trouble and Crimin offered to tow them back. They said they thought they could make it back and wanted to know about how far, and I told them about 45 miles. We watched the boat fade into the distance about 2pm said Crimin. An hour later the distress call came in that the Catherine H. was 35 miles offshore and was taking on water fast. The DiGiovanni family says a marine band radio was one of the things the brothers asked the owner for. But the brothers are dead now. That is hearsay. And a lot of "if s" combined to kill them. And an enduring mystery that may never clear. One of the few undisputed facts in this case is that it was E. Red Hamilton Jr. who hired the DiGiovanni brothers and their friend Johnnie Stone to take the Catherine H. and the trawler Ullysses to Honduras for him.