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Two crewmen were rescued by the Coast Guard after their fishing vessel caught fire and sank. The incident happened 20 miles west of Cape Blanco. The two fishermen aboard the 47-foot vessel were able to escape to a life raft before the fire consumed the vessel. A lighthouse keeper at Cape Blanco noticed the burning vessel and reported it to the Coast Guard. The details of how the vessel caught fire are unknown at this time.

All vessels must be prepared for emergencies such as this. Fire aboard vessels at sea are extremely dangerous because of the difficulty in fighting the fire. Safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, life rafts, EPIRBS, and VHF radios all should be updated and kept in working order.

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On July 13 2017, Washington State Fish and Wildlife officers and agents for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration served search warrants for records upon Ilwaco’s Pacific Salmon Charters. The investigation relates to allegations that during the May and June halibut season two vessels operating out of Pacific Salmon Charters improperly caught and retained halibut utilizing a practice of high grading the catch. High-grading involves a technique of catching fish and bringing them aboard a vessel, once a limit is reached, the less desirable fish previously caught are replaced when a better fish is subsequently caught. The Washington Department of fish and wildlife claims this practice to violate the strict regulations governing halibut fishing.

According to local news reports in the Chinook Observer, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife received a tip from one of a group of four-charter fishermen from Idaho who had been on a trip aboard the Pacific Salmon Charter’s vessel the Westwind. The fisherman alleged their group was instructed to continue fishing after their limit of one fish had been reached. The charter fisherman described the Westwind engaged in the “high-grading’ tactic. The complaint from the charter fisherman reportedly indicated halibut were placed in the live well of the charter boat but after catching their limit of halibut the boat continued to fish replacing the smaller fish with better quality fish. Several of the halibut that were returned to the ocean were allegedly dead or had their throats’ cut.

A plainclothes officer reportedly went fishing on the Pacific Dream during a one-day opener in June. The officer stated that at the beginning of the trip they were instructed the charter boat crew would not gaff the smaller fish, and would place them in a live well, so the charter fisherman could “size up” at the end of the day. The undercover officer observed the vessel utilize the high-grade procedure with four fish being returned to the ocean for larger fish. The undercover officer reportedly stated that at least one of the four returned fish was dead. Washington State Fish and Game Department officers met the Pacific Dream when it returned to the dock. Initially the crew denied the high-grading allegations but two crewmen reportedly admitted to the practice after finding out a plainclothes officer had been aboard the vessel posing as a charter fisherman.

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Two commercial fishermen were airlifted to safety by a Coast Guard helicopter crew on July 8, 2017. The two crewmen were aboard the 40-foot commercial fishing vessel New Faith and were fishing approximately 52 miles west of Coos Bay.   The crew issued a May Day call stating their vessel was taking on water and sinking. The vessel had been fishing for Albacore tuna and reportedly had one ton of tuna on board and 300 gallons of diesel. The captain of the vessel and the crewmen were airlifted by separate helicopters after attempts to dewater the vessel with the aid of a Coast Guard rescue swimmer failed. The crew of the New Faith was transported to North Bend for medical evaluation and were released without reported injuries.

The cause of the sinking of the New Faith is unknown at this time. Commercial fishing vessels continue to sink at an alarming rate off the Washington and Oregon coast. It is imperative that vessels are equipped with proper safety equipment, including survival suits. The crew of commercial vessels should regularly drill in emergency procedures. All vessels must be kept in a seaworthy condition, and a regular maintenance and repair schedule be followed. The safety of the crew of the vessel is paramount, and any needed repairs threatening the safety of the crew should not be ignored.   In this case the actions of our Coast Guard search and rescue teams saved another fishing vessel crew’s life.

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Quick action by an Ilwaco charter boat captain and his deckhand saved the lives of three fishermen last week. The three fishermen’s vessel began taking on water around 7:00 A.M. after crossing the bar and starting to fish just west of Cape Disappointment. The operator of the vessel, Dirk Irwin noticed the vessel was low in the stern and when the engine compartment was opened it was discovered to be flooded. The bilge pump failed and within minutes the engine quit. Irwin issued a May Day message to the Coast Guard indicating he was sinking and in need of immediate help. According to the news report Irwin’s boat, which he had borrowed from a friend, sank shortly after his call for help was made.   Luckily, Irwin and two 16-year-old passengers, Justin Williamson and Jake Kazamecki, were able to get on life preservers before the vessel sank.

Irwin’s radio message calling for help was heard by a near by Pacific Salmon Charters skipper, Brian Cables.   Cables quick action would save the three fishermen’s lives.   Cable piloted his charter boat the Pacific Dream, which had 16 passengers on board, to the area where Irwin reported his boat was sinking. With the aid of his deck hand, and the sixteen passengers aboard his charter boat Cables spotted the three Fishermen in the water.   Deckhand Patrick Gore threw the three fishermen a life ring and with the aid of charter passengers on the Pacific Dream pulled the three crewmen aboard the charter boat.

The rescued fishermen were suffering from signs of hypothermia. They were transferred to a Coast Guard motor lifeboat and taken back to Cape Disappointment Coast Guard Station for medical evaluation.   Search of the area was unable to locate the sunken vessel.

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Alaska State Troopers have confirmed that two missing crewman’s bodies have been recovered from the hull of the fishing vessel Miss Destinee. 18 and 22 year old Joshua and Abigail Osborne became trapped in the hull of the vessel when it capsized on June 29, 2017. Both Osborne’s were part of the same Wasilla family and reportedly had just become crewmembers aboard the Miss Destinee. A Celebration of Life service will be held for the two-young fisherman on Saturday July 8th at the Summit Worship Center.

The Miss Destinee was a small 35-foot long purse seine vessel. News reports indicate, the owner of the vessel Kyle Mead claims the vessel was underway to Kodiak with a load of fish when it was struck by a “rogue wave” causing the vessel to lay over onto its starboard side and capsize. Mead and another crewman were in the vessel’s upper wheelhouse and survived by clinging onto the vessel’s seine skiff until then could be rescued by a nearby vessel. It appears that in the capsizing of the vessel the two Osborne’s were unable to escape from below decks and were trapped in the vessel’s hull.

A salvage company has been able to right and refloat the Miss Destinee and the vessel has been towed to Kodiak where it will be examined by the Coast Guard. In vessel capsizing cases, the investigation into the cause of the capsizing focuses on multiple factors including operation and navigation of the vessel, the loading and stability characteristics of the vessels, together with the wind and sea conditions. Rogue waves are extremely rare conditions.

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A 33-year-old crewman aboard the Alaska fishing vessel Island Enterprise was airlifted by helicopter following a hand injury on July 6, 2017.   The crewman reportedly suffered a severe injury to his finger, which was “limb threatening”. A ship to shore medical service, Health Force Partners, contacted the Coast Guard on the Island Enterprise’s behalf about treatment for the injury, after consultation with the Coast Guard flight surgeon the crewman was evacuated from the vessel.   The Island Enterprise was approximately 152 miles north of Dutch Harbor. Weather conditions were reported as 35 mile per hour winds with 8-10 foot seas. The Island Enterprise is a 280-foot fish processor owned by Trident Seafoods. The circumstances surrounding the crewman’s injury is currently unknown.

In an emergency medical situation a fishing vessel may contact the United States Coast Guard for medical advice and assistance. To avoid unnecessary delays that may lead to medical complications and possible death a crewman may be airlifted from the vessel as happened in this case.

Health Force Partners is a private medical consulting firm utilized by many Alaska fishing companies. Health Force Partners’ “Physician Healthline” provides medical advice about treatment of injured crewman to the vessels owner and the employer. According to Health Force Partners web site the Physician Healthline is staffed 24 hours a day and can on the average provide a physician consultation within a few minutes of being contacted by a fishing vessel. Health Force Partners may work with the employer to coordinate emergency medical care and medical evacuation for an injured fisherman.

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The Coast Guard and the National Board of Transportation will hold hearings to investigate the February 11, 2017 disappearance of the Alaska crab fishing vessel DESTINATION. Six crewmen aboard the vessel remain missing and presumed dead. Witness testimony will be taken in Seattle beginning on August 7th. The focus of the investigation will be upon factors that contributed to the cause of the sinking and whether or not negligence or violations of the law on the part of any person holding Coast Guard licenses may have contributed to the sinking.   Information gathered in the casualty investigation may be used to develop new safety regulation to help prevent future sinkings.

Little is currently publicly known about the sinking of the 98 foot long DESTINATION. Some reported theories speculate that the DESTINTATION may have experienced severe icing conditions leading to loss of stability and capsizing of the vessel. No emergency may-day message was received from the vessel and search for the vessel located only a minor debris field and a small oil sheen. Search for the vessel was suspended after three days.

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July 3, 2017

Full loads of fish and heavy weather resulted in four Bristol Bay fishing boats reported to have swamped on Monday. The Coast Guard released news that four vessels were partially submerged in Nushagak Bay. One of the vessels reported to be involved is the F/V Ketok. Crewmembers from the vessels were rescued by other nearby fishing vessels. There were no reported injuries and the cause of the incidents is under investigation by the Coast Guard.

The incidents happened during a surge in the sockeye salmon run. Processors in the area reported a dramatic increase in deliveries on Monday after several weeks of declining catch. Heavily loaded vessels in rough seas can be a recipe for disaster. The race for catching the fish presents a short window of opportunity for Bristol Bay fishermen and when that window of opportunity mixes with bad weather the risks increase. Monday’s weather conditions were less than optimal with winds of 40 miles per hour.

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June 29 2017

The Coast Guard and nearby fishing vessels are continuing to search for two crewmen missing from the fishing vessel Miss Destinee. The incident happened about 23 miles north of Kodiak in Marmot Bay.

The Coast Guard received a mayday message on channel sixteen from a nearby vessel indicating that the 39 foot purse seine vessel Miss Destinee was in trouble. The call was received around 7:30 A.M. Thursday morning.

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On Monday, June 19, 2017, USCG in Kodiak received a medevac request from the crew of the NEW DAWN. A crew member aboard the NEW DAWN sustained a broken ankle and after consultation with the duty flight surgeon, the decision was made to request medevac from the vessel due to the possible need for orthopedic surgery. A Jayhawk helicopter was dispatched to the vessel located in the vicinity of Shelikof Strait. The injured crew member was safely hoisted from the vessel and transported to Kodiak for medical treatment. The weather conditions at the time were reported to be mild with 17 mph winds.

The F/V New Dawn is a 44.8 foot commercial fishing vessel based out of Kodiak, Alaska. The details of how the crewman was injured are unavailable. Crewman injured aboard fishing vessels in almost all cases are entitled to benefits under Federal Maritime Law.  These no fault benefits include the payment of maintenance and cure benefits.  Under the maintenance and cure doctrine a vessel owner must pay all reasonable and necessary medical expenses associated with a crewman’s injury.  This includes the duty to pay for medical evacuation from the vessel.

Due to the nature of the commercial fishing industry, injuries aboard vessels are common place. Injuries happen for a variety of reasons, whether it was negligence of the vessel owner or an employee, or unseaworthiness of the vessel itself. Under general maritime law, vessel owners have a duty to provide prompt and adequate medical care to the crew, regardless of how the injury occurred. Sometimes that duty requires halting operations and calling for a coast guard medevac or heading to the nearest port. A breach of these duties constitutes negligence under the Jones Act.