Articles Posted in Maritime News

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Four crewmen were rescued from a life raft Sunday night after the F/V MT Tamgas capsized 12 miles off the Oregon Coast.  The captain of the MT Tamgas radio issued a mayday call reporting his vessel was capsizing and the four crewmen were abandoning ship into the vessel’s life raft. A Coast Guard helicopter rescued the crewmen and transported the crew to Tillamook Bay for emergency medical assessment.  One of the crewmen was reported to be suffering from symptoms of hypothermia. The facts and circumstances of the capsizing are unknown at this time.   Vessel documentation indicates the 54-foot long MT Tamgas is a steel hulled vessel built in 1966 and owned by Travenshek Fisheries.  The vessel is home ported in Warrenton, Oregon.

The commercial fishing fleet in Washington and Oregon has recently experienced an increasing number of fishing vessel sinkings. Fortunately, the Coast Guard has been there to rescue many of the crews of these vessels.  However, vessel safety starts with a properly maintained vessel, and a vessel fully equipped with safety equipment, and a properly trained crew. We are thankful the crew of MT Tamgas was rescued from a very dangerous situation.

Johnson Beard & Trueb PC are maritime lawyers who represent fishermen injured fishing in Oregon, Washington, and Alaska.  Their experience includes handling commercial vessel sinking cases such as the Aleutian Enterprise, Alaska Ranger, Arctic Rose, Lady Cecelia,  Sara Jo, Nesika and many others.

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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.

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A worker suffered serious injuries aboard the Ergina Luck early Monday Morning. The Ergina Luck is a 750-foot Liberia flagged bulk carrier vessel and was anchored near Astoria, Oregon. The Coast Guard was contacted on Monday by the agent for the ship who reported the man had fallen in the vessel’s bilge and had injury his back and both legs. The injured crewman was reportedly aboard the vessel to install a recirculation system. The injured worker was reportedly employed by Degesch America, based in Portland.   The rescue team reportedly carried the man on a stretcher up three flights of stairs before lowering him to a motor lifeboat for transfer to shore. The facts and circumstances of the injury are under investigation. The outcome of the man’s injuries are currently unknown.

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A commercial fisherman in California has lost his life on Sunday in a crab fishing accident. Two crewmen working on the 47-foot Chief Joseph went overboard in the accident and the captain was able to rescue one of the crewmen but the other man could not be found. After an extensive air and sea search for the missing fisherman the Coast Guard has now called off the search.   The facts and circumstances of the accident are not fully known at this time and will likely be the focus of a Coast Guard investigation.

Commercial fishing on the California, Oregon and Washington coast remains an extremely dangerous occupation. Small vessels working in heavy seas compound the risk of injury and death. It is important that all the vessel’s gear be properly maintained and proper safety procedures followed. Crewmen working on deck should wear safety vests. Vessel crews should train and practice what to do in the event of a man overboard situation.

Two other crab fishing vessels required Coast Guard Assistance last week. With four crab fishermen on board, the 57-foot Lori Ann lost power and steering near the Humboldt Bay North Spit. The Coast Guard was able to quickly respond and tow the vessel to port.

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On Wednesday, the Coast Guard rescued five fishermen from a sinking fishing vessel off the coast of Washington. The 87-foot commercial fishing vessel Sunnfjord radioed the Coast Guard for help when they were in danger of sinking due to flooding. The five crewmen had put on survival suits and were prepared to abandon the vessel. The Coast Guard dispatched four motor rescue boats and a helicopter to aid in the rescue of the fishermen. The Coast Guard was able to arrive on the scene and rescue the crewmen before the Sunnfjord sank. All crewmen are reported safe and were transported to Neah Bay for further evaluation. The cause of the Sunnfjord sinking is unknown and under investigation. Early reports indicate the vessel was unable to control progressive flooding in the engine room. The vessel sank approximately six miles west of Cape Alva.

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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).

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Deckhand, Juan Martinez died at sea when he went overboard while working aboard the 54-foot tuna fishing vessel Summer Breeze. The vessel owned by Pat Patana was home ported in Chinook Washington.   Martinez was 38 years old and is survived by his partner of 20 years, Lourdes Salvador and his two children.

The tragic incident happened approximately 100 miles west of Ilwaco. First reports indicate Patana reported he thought Martinez slipped and fell overboard while trying to untangle fishing lines. Patana told reporters that he tried to rescue Martinez but was unable to pull Martinez back on board the fishing boat. There were no nearby fishing vessels in the area to help Patana rescue Martinez.

Patana told local newspaper reporters that Martinez was an excellent employee with a strong work ethic.   Patana is organizing a November 11th fundraiser to benefit Martinez family.

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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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.In a landmark victory for Alaska fisherman, fish processors, deckhands and seaman,  the Supreme Court of Washington has today ruled that an injured Alaska Commercial Fisherman may claim punitive damages when injured as a result of the unseaworthiness of his vessel. The case was filed by a deckhand, Allan Tabingo, who suffered near complete amputation of two fingers while working as a deckhand aboard the American Triumph. Tabingo was on his hands and knees clearing fish from a fish hatch when a fellow crewman improperly activated the controls causing the hatch to close crushing Tabingo’s hand. Realizing his mistake the crewman attempted to stop closing the hatch, but the control handle for the hatch was broken and did not work. Tabingo alleged American Seafoods knew about the broken control handle for the hatch for over two years prior to his injury but failed to repair it.

Tabingo filed suit in King County Superior Court against American Seafoods including in his complaint a cause of action for punitive damages based upon the unseaworthiness of the vessel. Tabingo based his claim for punitive damage upon the Supreme Court of the United States holding in Atlantic Soundings v. Townsend .   Relying upon a divided Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, McBride v. Estis, American Seafoods moved to dismiss Tabingo’s punitive damage, this motion was granted by the Superior Court Judge. Tabingo was granted a direct interlocutory appeal by the Washington State Supreme Court.

The Washington Supreme Court ruled in Tabingo’s favor holding that punitive damages were available to injured seaman, fisherman and fish processors in cases involving unseaworthiness claims. The Supreme Court of Washington relied upon Atlantic Soundings, finding that the Atlantic Soundings decision was not limited to maintenance and cure claims, but applied to all general maritime law claims including Tabingo’s claim for unseaworthiness. In rejecting American Seafoods argument the Washington Supreme Court stated that the Miles v. Apex wrongful death case was limited to its facts, and instead found that the rationale of the Supreme Court of the United States in Atlantic Soundings controlled Tabingo’s case and allowed for the punitive damage claim to go forward.

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The Coast Guard airlifted five crewmen from the 102-foot tug Ocean Eagle on Wednesday. The Ocean Eagle is operated by Brusco Tug and Barge Company based in Longview Washington. The Ocean Eagle and the 300-foot barge it was towing went aground on Mariposa Reef on the south side of Strait Island in Sumner Strait. Weather conditions on the scene were reported to be 34 mile per hour winds with 6 feet seas.

The Coast Guard airlifted the crewmen to safety when the tug reportedly began taking on water. The five rescued crewmen from the Ocean Eagle were taken to Sitka. No crewman injuries were reported in initial news releases.

The barge reportedly had 58,000 gallons of diesel fuel divided among multiple tanks and was also carrying dry cargo. Whether or not there has been any pollution consequence from the grounding has not been reported. After running aground the tug and barge refloated itself and then ran aground in Alvin Cove.