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ALASKA RANGER ASSISTANT ENGINEER CHANGES STORY ABOUT THE CAUSE OF THE VESSEL SINKING

The Alaska Ranger sank in the Bering Sea on March 23, 2008 resulting in one of the Coast Guard’s most extensive investigations into the cause of a sinking of a commercial fishing vessel. Owned by the Fishing Company of Alaska the Alaska Ranger was a 185-foot long catcher processor and carried a crew of 47 fishermen. Five crewmen lost their lives when the vessel sank, and many of the 42 surviving crewmen spent hours in the pitch black freezing water before being rescued in one of the Coast Guard’s most heroic efforts.

The Coast Guard and National Transportation held public Coast Guard Casualty hearings in an attempt to determine the cause of the Alaska Ranger’s sinking. Multiple expert and witnesses testified at the hearing, including Rodney Lundy, the vessel’s assistant engineer. Lundy, a critical witness, was the assistant engineer on watch at the time the vessel began to take on flooding in its engine room.

The Seattle Times has extensively covered the cause and circumstances surrounding the Alaska Ranger sinking. The Times is now reporting on the ten-year anniversary of the vessel sinking that Lundy is now disclosing new critical information that was withheld from his testimony during the hearings in 2008. The Seattle Times reports that Lundy now claims he complained to the Alaska Ranger’s Japanese fish master about nets being stacked on deck around the engine room vents. Lundy reportedly claims that as the vessel sank the nets stacked around the starboard engineer room vent prevented him from closing the vent and allowing seawater to down flood directly into the engine room. According to the Seattle Times report: Lundy says two Fishing Company of Alaska officials, at different times, told him to keep quiet about the problems he had trying to close the vent. The officials identified by Lundy were unavailable to provide comment to the Seattle Times reporter

In 2016 another fishing vessel, the Alaska Juris, owned by Fishing Company of Alaska sank while fishing in the Bering Sea. No crewmen were lost in the Alaska Juris sinking. The fishing vessels owned by the Fishing Company of Alaska were recently sold in 2017 to Ocean Peace and O’Hara Corp (two Seattle based Alaska fishing companies).

Veteran maritime injury lawyer James Beard was one of the lead lawyers in wrongful death claims brought against the Fishing Company of Alaska following the sinking of the Alaska Ranger. The cases resulted in confidential settlements for the surviving crewmen of the Alaska Ranger and the families of the deceased crewmen. Beard states that there was substantial evidence of negligence and unseaworthiness in the Alaska Ranger case. However, the Times’ recent report that Lundy claims his original testimony at the Coast Guard hearing involved some pressure upon him by FCA not to disclose important factual information is troubling. Beard says that Lundy’s new statements about the open engine room vents is an important factor for prevention of future sinkings, however, Lundy’s new testimony would have had little impact on the civil suits.