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A Seattle jury awarded 1.35 Million dollars in damages to an Alaska Crab Fisherman, David Zielinski, who suffered a severe hand aboard the F/V TIME BANDIT in January of 2013. The Jones Act injury case alleged the Zielinski’s employer was negligent in instructing Zielinski and other crewman aboard the TIME BANDIT to shoot powerful mortar type fireworks at an adjacent crab fishing vessel. As Zielinski was holding the lighted fireworks device in his hand it exploded breaking multiple bones in his right hand and arm.

The TIME BANDIT is one of the featured Alaska crab boats on the popular television show “Deadliest Catch”. The vessel is owned by New Era Alaska and Time Bandit Inc. The vessel was operated by the Hillstrand brothers, John and Andy. In various episodes of the Deadliest Catch TV show the crew has been depicted lighting fireworks aboard the vessel. The vessel had its own fireworks packaged with the TIME BANDIT name.

A You Tube video posted on the Internet shows the Time Bandit and the Northwestern, another Deadliest Catch vessel, engaged in a firework fight on a separate occasion. The video appears to depict crewman holding mortar type devices, large roman candles in their hands and firing rockets and mortar shells between the two vessels.  A fair viewing of this video raises the question of not whether a crewman will be injured but rather when.

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An 81-foot tug boat owned by Samson Tug and Barge Company sank at a Sitka pier Wednesday night. The 81-foot tug Powhatan had been out of service for ten years and no crew was reported injured in the incident. The major concern is potential pollution to the environment. Samson has indicated that although the vessel had a 20,000 gallon fuel capacity, all but one of the vessel’s tanks had been previously drained. However, the forward tank reportedly contained approximately 2,500 gallons of fuel.

After sinking the tug was described as sliding under the pier and resting on an underwater ledge. Some signs of diesel and oil leakage have been noted. An oil boom has been put in place.   The Coast Guard and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation are responding to the accident. Samson is developing a salvage plan for the raising of the vessel and to minimize environmental damage. Weather conditions were mild with 11 mile per hour winds and 2 foot seas. What caused the tug’s sinking is unknown and under investigation.

In other Northwest maritime news three passengers from a pleasure boat were rescued from their vessel after going aground at Boulder Island in the San Juan Islands. The Coast Guard airlifted the passengers from their vessel, it is not known whether there were any injuries.

 

 

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The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected a maritime employer’s attempt to deny a deceased crewman’s family $400,000 in damages awarded for the crewman’s predeath pain and suffering. The maritime death case involved a truck mounted drilling rig on a barge in a Louisiana Bayou. The truck was not properly secured and toppled over crushing one crewman to death and injuring another.

Although the employer admitted negligence and unseaworthiness the employer made the argument that the crewman did not have conscious predeath pain and suffering after the drill rig fell and crushed him. The Court of Appeals rejected the employer’s argument finding ample circumstantial evidence that the seaman had moments of terror and freight as he attempted to escape from being crushed by the falling oil rig.  Eyewitness testimony showed that the crewman was aware of the danger and running for his life immediately prior to the impact, and photographs at the scene showed that his body was positioned in a defensive manner trying to protect himself. An expert pathologist also testified that the deceased crewman would have been conscious for several minutes after the impact.

The case, McBride v. Estis Well Service, 2017 WL 1321979, confirms the maritime law principle that a seaman’s predeath pain and suffering, terror, freight and fear of death are compensable damages even if only momentary in nature.

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An Alaska Court has held a presumptive death hearing declaring the six-missing crewmen from the F/V DESTINATION lost at sea and presumed dead. The ruling allows the families of the crewman to obtain official death certificates necessary for administering the estates and pursuing legal claims and benefits relating to the deaths of the crewmen.

The vessel with six crewmen on board disappeared on February 11, 2017 approximately two miles north of St. George Island. No mayday message was issued by the vessel and only small amounts of wreckage were located. The Coast Guard was alerted that the vessel was in trouble when it received an EPIRB signal.  Despite search and rescue efforts, no trace of the six-missing crewmen has been found.

Memorial Services for the missing crewman are to be held on March 23rd in the Seattle area. Missing and presumed dead are Raymond Vincler, Larry o’Grady, Charles Jones, Darrik Seibold, Kai Hamik and captain of the vessel Jeff Hathaway.

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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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Crewman who are injured or who become ill while working aboard Alaska fishing vessels are protected by Federal Maritime Law. Being seriously injured causes emotional and economic stress on an injured fisherman and his family. Experienced maritime injury lawyers understand that an important part of any legal case for an injured fisherman is recovering compensation for the injured crewman’s lost wages. If you have lost wages and suffered a disabling injury that impairs your ability to work in the future, you should consult with an experienced maritime lawyer to fully learn about your rights to compensation.

When a fisherman or fish processor has lost wages because of a shipboard injury their rights to benefits involves overlapping laws and claims. Many serious fishing accident cases involve large claims for future lost wages and lost wage earning capacity. These negligence based claims are based upon the Jones Act and the Unseaworthiness doctrine.

However, as explained below, in addition to Jones Act negligence and unseaworthiness claims in most cases an injured fisherman should be also be entitled to (1) the wages he would have earned had he completed his contractual period of employment; and (2) daily maintenance payments for living expenses. The law provides for these basic benefits during the period that the injured seaman is recovering from his injuries. Obtaining maintenance, cure and unearned wage benefits assists the seaman to survive while he recovers from his injury and is unable to work. First, under the General Maritime Law an injured fisherman or fish processor is entitled to his “unearned wages until the end of the voyage”. The unearned wage claim of an injured fisherman is different and distinct from his Jones Act negligence or unseaworthiness claim for lost past and future wages. The advantage of an unearned wage claim is that it is a no-fault remedy that should be paid without substantial dispute following an injury that leaves a fisherman unable to complete his employment contract.

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A discrimination case for a Hispanic crewman aboard an Alaska fishing vessel has settled 1.85 million dollars. The settlement stems from allegations of discriminatory conduct and harassment, which occurred aboard the Alaska long line vessel Ocean Prowler in 2011.   37 year old crewman and fish processor Francisco Miranada claimed the captain and mate of the Ocean Prowler targeted Mexican crewman for harassment, calling them dirty Mexicans and other racial epithets. Miranda was told he should swim back to Mexico. Miranda was born in the United States and is a United States Citizen.

The threats recounted to Miranda are familiar threats to lawyers who represent injured Alaska fisherman. Miranda was threatened that if he quit during the fishing trip they would not be paid. There are no unions to protect your job on a commercial fishing vessel. If you object to unsafe working conditions or improper treatment, crewmen quickly find themselves out of work.

Alaska commercial fishing vessels are crewed by workers with diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. The jobs in many cases are jobs of last resort for untrained workers who have limited education and English language skills.   Higher paying jobs are highly sought after by crewman. Sadly the commercial fishing industry continues to brew a toxic discriminatory environment where fear of retaliation causes much harassment and discriminatory conduct to go unreported.

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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.

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February 24, 2017

The United States Coast Guard has announced they will convene a Marine Board of Investigation into the sinking of the Alaska crab fishing vessel Destination.   Six crewman remain missing as a result of the February 1, 2017 disappearance of the Destination.   An emergency locator beacon first alerted the Coast Guard that the Destination was in trouble. No mayday message was received from the vessel. Search and rescue efforts provided few clues as to the cause of the vessel’s disappearance. All that was located in the area of the EPIRB was an oil sheen, life ring from the vessel, buoys and tarps. Sea and weather conditions in the area suggest that the vessel may have experienced freezing ocean spray conditions. Icing conditions can lead to vessel stability problems.

The Marine Board of Investigation will gather evidence relating to factors that may have contributed to the incident. The Marine Board may subpoena records and take sworn statements from witnesses. Past crewmen will be interviewed. Typically in past casualties involving Alaska fishing vessels the investigations have focused on maintenance and repair of the vessel including any alterations, additions or subtractions to or from the vessel that may have impacted the vessel’s stability. Weather and sea conditions will be examined to determine the possibility that icing conditions may have played a role in the loss of the vessel. The vessel’s stability will be analyzed and the vessel’s stability report will be reviewed. An important issue will be how the vessel was loaded with pots and gear, and its ability to dump gear quickly in the event of citing conditions.

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Alaska’s commercial long line fleet doesn’t know when their season will start for sure. There is no news from the National Marine Fisheries as to when the commercial longline season will start for halibut and black cod. March 11, 2017 was the date agreed to by vote of the International Halibut Commission, however, the start date for the Alaska fisheries requires a publication of a regulation in the Federal Register.

It’s a Presidential Order by President Trump that is causing delays in establishing the fishing opening date. President Trump signed an executive order in January stating that for every new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations must be stricken from the records. The result of the Trump’s Executive order has caused unexpected delays in passing regulations affecting commercial fisheries. Trump also issued an order putting a 60 day freeze on new and pending regulations until they could be reviewed by the head of an agency appointed by the President.

Representatives of the National Marine Fisheries, politicians, and the Department of Commerce are all working with the Trump administration to determine how Trump’s Executive Order impacts the passage of regulations such as the start of Alaska commercial fishing seasons. The impact of President Trump’s broad Executive Order requiring elimination of two regulations for each new regulation did not give consideration to such matters as commercial fishing regulations.