The U.S. Coast Guard continues to investigate what caused a 56-foot fishing vessel, which was not manned by its captain, to run aground on an Atlantic City beach late Sunday night.

Three individuals, including the captain, were aboard the Jessica Heather at about 11:10 p.m. when it ran aground, Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Eric Leese said. Initial reports show the captain of the ship was not at the helm and that one of the two mates onboard was driving and may have fallen asleep, Leese said.

The Coast Guard received a call just after midnight about the beached boat, which remained stuck on the beach for almost 18 hours near the Pier Shops at Caesars.

Leese said the ship had been out on the ocean at an undetermined distance from shore to begin its fishing for the night.

Before beginning their work, one crew member announced they had a family emergency that required the vessel to turn around and head back to Atlantic City, according to initial reports, Leese said.

That is when the boat ran aground.

There were no fish aboard the ship since the fishermen had not begun working, Leese said.

“It could have been worse,” he said. On one side was the pier and on the other side was a jetty,

which could have damaged the hull of the ship.

Leese said the boat was towed back into the ocean at about 6 p.m. Monday by TowBoat U.S., a company associated with Shamrock Marine Towing in Ocean City.

One of the two crew members aboard the ship, George Southwell, 32, of Secane, Pa., was arrested on warrants in an unrelated case, State Police said. They had no further information about the incident.

Southwell remained in Atlantic County jail on Tuesday.

The commercial fishing vessel is registered to F/V Paige Nicole LLC in West Creek, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Because there was no damage and no spills resulting in environmental impact, there will likely be no charges or fines, Leese said. But he said the investigation is ongoing.

“It’s like pulling over on the side of the road. You can’t get a ticket for that,” Leese said.

The Coast Guard said it may take a month or more to complete the investigation.

Contact Anjalee Khemlani:

609-272-7247

Follow Anjalee Khemlani on Twitter @AnjKhem

Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.