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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.

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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.