The crew of the Fishing Vessel Masonic put on survival suits and abandoned ship into the vessel life raft on Tuesday. The 62 foot Masonic went aground near Coronation Island south east of Sitka and the crew radioed a May Day to the Coast Guard. All crewmen have been rescued by a Coast Guard Helicopter. The cause of the incident is unknown at this time and will be subject to further investigation. The crew of the Masonic was prepared for an emergency and had reportedly recently undergone Coast Guard dockside examination.
A 25-year-old crewman, Grant Hildreth has been reported missing after falling overboard from the F/V CAPE GRIEG. The tragic accident happened on Thursday in Ugashik Bay, Alaska. Reports indicate the crew of the Cape Grieg tried to save Hildreth by throwing him a flotation device but that Hildreth went under the water and could not be found. The cause of the accident is unknown at this time and is under investigation. Hildreth was not wearing a personal flotation device. Weather at the time of incident was reported to be relatively mild with a strong incoming tide. The Cape Greig is a 175 foot long fish processing vessel owned by F/V BEAGLE LLC and is home ported in Seattle Washington.
Few accidents at sea are not preventable if proper training and safety procedures are followed. It is common safety practice aboard Alaska fishing vessel for crewmen working on the deck of a vessel to wear personal flotation work vests. These vests can save lives, and vessel owners must ensure that safety rules requiring wearing safety vests are enforced. Fishing vessel safety regulations require fishing boat crews to drill and practice in rescue procedures in the event of a man overboard situation. The maritime lawyers at Johnson Beard & Trueb PC represent the families of crewmen who have been injured or killed working at sea; they have offices located in Anchorage and Seattle.
A crewman was discovered missing and presumed overboard off a 587-foot oil tanker near Cold Bay, Alaska. The 23-year-old crewman was reported to have fallen overboard off the M/V CHALLENGE PRELUDE, a Hong Kong registered vessel bound for Anchorage. On Sunday, after discovering the missing crewman the vessel reversed course along its original track in attempts to locate the missing crewman. Coast Guard aerial search for the missing man was to resume today. Mild weather was reported in the area with winds of 9 mph and seas of three feet. Water temperature was estimated at 39 degrees. The circumstances of how the man fell over board are unknown. It is also unknown whether or not he was wearing a work floatation type vest.
In other Alaska fishing news on Friday the Coast Guard medevac’d a 44-year-old man from the F/V SAINTE PETER. The injured crewman was reported unconscious and unresponsive by the vessel Captain. A Coast Guard helicopter hoisted the man from the vessel and transported him 60 miles to Dutch Harbor for medical assessment. The Coast Guard stated: “Saving lives is one of our missions,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Trevor Frommherz, District 17 command center search and rescue controller. “The Coast Guard is on call 24 hour a day, seven days a week. We have assets and personnel available to assist in all weather conditions and in any type of situation, as we are always ready.”
The on call Coast Guard flight surgeon is valuable for all fishing vessels working in Alaska. The Coast Guard may be contacted for medical advise about how to treat an injured or ill crewman and may help access the need to emergency medical evaluation. Early treatment for injured or ill crewman can be the difference between life and death. Don’t put fishing profits over a crewman’s safety, get a seriously injured or ill crewman to shore for treatment as soon as possible.
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
Fishermen Finest choose to build their new 265-foot catcher processor in local American Shipyard, Dakota Creek. The 265-foot vessel carried a price tag of 75 million dollars and the vessel was the newest and largest catcher processor to be built in the United States in over 30 years. Fishermen’s Finest is a local Kirkland based company, which employs hundreds of crewmen to work on their vessels as fish processors in Alaska. The construction of the vessel meant hundreds of jobs for local shipyard workers. Building the F/V American Finest in the United States was a feel good story about supporting American shipbuilding and the American fisheries.
But there is now a 75 million dollar problem caused by Dakota Creek mistakenly using too much foreign steel in construction of the vessel. Federal Regulations for new vessels constructed to fish in United State waters only allow for 1.5 percent of the vessel’s weight to be made from foreign steel. Dakota Creek made a mistake and the 265-foot F/V America Finest contains an estimated ten percent of foreign steel most of which is from Holland. The vessel now sits unfinished and the owners are reportedly preparing to put the vessel up for sale to foreign interest that would be able to use the vessel in waters not under the jurisdiction of the United States.
Fishermen’s Finest and Dakota Creek sought a legislative fix to the problem of having too much foreign steel in the vessel. Other fishing companies opposed a waiver that would allow the vessel to fish. Washington State Senator Cantwell and Alaska State Senator Sullivan have been negotiating over the terms of a compromise to allow the vessel to enter the American fishery. A waiver to allow the American Finest to fish in United States water failed to make it into the 1.3 million dollar spending bill signed President Trump on Friday. Although there is still hope for a regulatory exemption to be passed, such a fix is becoming increasingly doubtful.
February 21, 2018
A Coast Guard helicopter stationed at Cold Bay has airlifted a crewman from the Alaska fishing vessel Golden Alaska. The incident happened Tuesday about 60 miles northeast of Cold Bay.
The crewman was reported to have stroke symptoms. The Golden Alaska is a 307-foot Alaska fishing processing vessel owned by Golden Alaska Seafoods. The vessel works together with six catcher boats under the mother ship concept. The catcher boats catch the fish and deliver the fish to the Golden Alaska where the fish are processed at sea by crewmen aboard the vessel.
The Coast Guard airlifted an unconscious crewman from the Alaska fishing vessel Island Enterprise on Friday. The 57-year-old man was reportedly found unconscious in the vessel’s freezer hold. The 300-foot-long catcher processor vessel is owned by Trident Seafoods. The vessel was fishing approximately 57 miles northeast from Cold Bay. Weather conditions were reported to be 16 mph winds with eight-foot seas.
The Coast Guard was contacted by Health Force Partners who assisted in coordinating the medevac of the crewman. Health Force Partners is an emergency medical service utilized by many Alaska commercial fishing vessels. In this case after being contacted by Health Force Partners the Coast Guard Flight surgeon recommended immediate evacuation of the crewman from the vessel. A helicopter pre-staged at Cold Bay was dispatched to rescue the man from the vessel. The crewman was returned to Cold Bay where a Guardian Flight Service crew was waiting to transfer the man to Anchorage for further medical care. The details of this particular accident aboard the Island Enterprise are currently unknown.
Injury accidents frequently occur in the freezer holds of factory trawlers. Injuries may involve falling fifty-pound bags or frozen boxes, conveyor belt injuries, lifting accidents, and slip and falls. In cases involving head injuries or an unconscious crewman, the crewman should immediately be accessed by qualified medical personnel to determine the extent of the injury.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that injured seaman and fisherman may claim punitive damages under the general maritime law unseaworthiness doctrine. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is the law that governs the claims for injured seaman that are filed in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California State and Federal Courts. Governing law in these Courts now permit a seaman who is willfully and recklessly injured as a result of the vessel’s unseaworthiness to claim punitive damages. The standard for an award of punitive damages is “conduct which manifests reckless or callous disregard for the rights of others or gross negligence or actual malice or criminal indifference”. Punitive damages are designed to punish certain wrongful acts and conduct of by the vessel owner and to serve as a deterrent to other vessel to withhold from committing similar wrongful acts.
Punitive damages work. Since the ruling of the Supreme Court in Atlantic Soundings v. Townsend there has been a dramatic shift in the practice of vessel owners in the administration of maintenance and cure benefits. The threat of a potential punitive damage award has resulted in higher maintenance rates, broader approval of medical benefits, and an overall improvement in safety. Unfortunately, there remains many vessel owners who continue to negligent their vessels and operate them in an unseaworthy condition, and who ignore their duties provide proper maintenance and cure benefits. Punitive damages for unseaworthiness will play a vital role in ensuring that vessel owners abided by their duty to maintain and operate their vessels in a seaworthy manner.
The January 26, 2018 in Batterton v. Dutra Group, NO. 15-56775 (9th Cir. 2018) follows the land mark decision of the Supreme Court in Atlantic Soundings v. Townsend, 557 U.S. 464 (2009) and rejected arguments of vessel owner that Miles v. Apex Marine 498 US 19 (1990). The case adopts the Ninth Circuits prior ruling in Evich v. Morris 819 F. 2d 256 (9th Cir. 1987) and rejects the reasoning of the fifth Circuit in McBride vs. Estis Well Services 768 F. 3rd 382 (5th 2014).
A crewman was airlifted from the F/V Defender today after suffering a head injury while working aboard the vessel. The Defender is a 154-factory trawler. Early reports indicate the crewman was struck in the head by a 37-pound block of frozen fish. More information about the facts causing the injury are unknown at this time. However, blocks of frozen fish are standard aboard many Alaska factory trawlers. After processing the fish are placed into pans, which are frozen into blocks by the vessel’s plate freezers. The frozen blocks are then placed into bags or boxes and stored in the vessel freezer hold. Crewmen are frequently injured during this process. It is important that all equipment and safety procedures are followed to prevent crewman injury when they are handling frozen cargo.
The accident happened 260 miles north of Cold Bay. A Coast Guard flight surgeon directed the emergency evacuation of the injured crewman. A Coast Guard helicopter stationed at Cold Bay airlifted the crewman to St. Paul where he was transported to Anchorage for further emergency medical treatment.
Serious head injuries must be promptly treated by emergency medical personnel. Following discharge from the hospital crewman suffering head injuries must be closely watched for signs of post concussive syndrome. Head injuries involving blows to the head can cause mild traumatic brain injuries. Symptoms of brain injury can include memory loss, headaches, personality changes, and depression.
Dutch Harbor remains the United States top commercial fishing port for 2016. NOAA’s annual fishing data report published last week showed fishing boats delivered 770 million pounds of product to Dutch Harbor in 2016 with a value of 198 million dollars. 2016 marked the 20th consecutive year Dutch Harbor has had the highest volume of commercial fishing landings. Kodiak was in the fourth overall spot in 2016 with 440 million pounds of commercial fish landed with a value of 107 million dollars. Nationally, commercial fishing landings in Alaska accounted for over 50 percent of the total commercial landings for the entire United States.
New Bedford Massachusetts had landings of 106 million pounds but had the highest value of landings at 326 million dollars. New Bedford has held the highest value of commercial fishing landings for 17 consecutive years. Westport Washington had 108 million dollars of commercial landings with a value of 59 million dollars. Top ports in Oregon were Astoria and Newport. The fish landed in Oregon was valued at over 100 million dollars.
Working as a commercial fisherman aboard fishing vessels in Alaska, Washington and Oregon is challenging and demanding work. Catching 770 million pounds of fish in a season comes at a high price for some crewmen in the form of death or serious injury. Commercial fishing remains one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.