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Forty-Six Crewmembers abandon the Commercial Fishing Vessel ALASKA JURIS as the Vessel begins to sink on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 in the Bering Sea

The ALASKA JURIS, a factory trawler owned and operated by the Fishing Company of Alaska, began to sink in the Bering Sea on Tuesday, forcing the crew of 46 to don survival suits and abandon ship.  The Coast Guard says the ship had a problem in the engine room that led to flooding.  As the ship flooded, it reportedly lost power and threw the propeller into reverse.  The incident occurred near Kiska Island, about 690 miles west of Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

The crew are reported to have been rescued by Good Samaritan vessels, the SPAR CANIS and the VIENNA EXPRESS, and transported to Adak Island.  By the time rescuers found the crew, it is reported that sailors had been unable to reach lifeboats and were bobbing in frigid waters.  The Coast Guard plans to conduct a flyover on July 28, 2016, to determine whether the vessel is still afloat and if any pollution spilled.

The Fishing Company of Alaska is the same company that owned and operated the ALASKA RANGER, another factory trawler that sank in the Bering Sea on March 23, 2008.  Five people died in that tragedy.  Reports have surfaced of other cases of injury and death aboard Fishing Company of Alaska vessels, including the ALASKA JURIS.  According to U.S News, in March 2012, a crewmember aboard the JURIS died after a cable snapped and struck him in the head, and days later another deckhand sustained a head injury when another cable snapped.  U.S. News also cites an instance of crewmembers being exposed to ammonia leaks in May of 2012.

The Fishing Company of Alaska has an unenviable safety record.  The firm of Anderson, Carey & Williams has prosecuted numerous claims against the Company over the past couple of decades.  In addition to representing crewmembers aboard the ALASKA RANGER who sustained physical and emotional injuries, the firm has represented a number of other crewmembers injured due to negligence and unseaworthiness of vessels owned and operated by the Fishing Company of Alaska.

We await the results of the initial investigation by the Coast Guard, but the likelihood of a vessel sinking in expectable, indeed benign sea conditions in the middle of summer without some fault in the condition or operation of the vessel seems remote.

Anderson Carey & Williams has represented seamen and their families for over thirty-five years throughout the United States. With offices in Seattle and Bellingham, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, the attorneys of Anderson Carey & Williams are collectively admitted to practice in Washington, Alaska, Oregon, California, Florida, Arizona, and Washington D.C.

Video Credit: Associated Press

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Beware the Ides of October

This is the 50th anniversary of the “Columbus Day Storm,” the most powerful extratropical storm of all time. It is an appropriate moment to contemplate the significance of fall weather patterns to the North Pacific marine industry.

Many years ago, a partner at the maritime law firm of Anderson Carey Alexander was a principal of a tug and barge company. He secured marine insurance for a tug to be operated in Puget Sound. The policy permitted the vessel to trade offshore in the summer, but not after October 15. He remembers the provision well, since the so-called “trading warranty” had to be amended to permit a barge to be towed from Portland, Oregon to Puget Sound in November.

At the time, October 15 seemed to be an arbitrary date. But years of experience have shown that on or about that date every year the weather in the North Pacific changes for the worse. This year is a dramatic example. According to University of Washington meteorologist Cliff Maas, the high pressure area which lingered over the Northwest for months is moving east. Beginning today, October 12, and continuing for the foreseable future, one storm system after another is likely to roll off the Pacific and batter the coast.

Fall can be a dangerous season at sea. Many fisheries are in full swing and mariners are exposed the perils of the sea, even as weather deteriorates with the approach of winter. At Anderson Carey Alexander, we have handled numerous maritime injury and death claims resulting, in part, from the particular perils of autumn.

In 1981, a fish processor returning from the Bering Sea at the end of the salmon fishing season foundered and sank, causing multiple lives to be lost. A couple of months later, a trawler capsized off the Oregon coast, resulting in the death of four crewmembers. Four years ago this month, a 92-foot trawler hurried to Dutch Harbor from the fishing grounds with a boatload of cod, attempting to outrun an approaching storm. The vessel sank under the impact of 55-90 knot winds and seas approaching 40 feet. The result, again, was the tragic death of crewmembers. (In the intervening years, innumerable autumn casualties gave rise to injury and death at sea.)

Marine casualties occur throughout the year, but for the North Pacific fishing fleet the fall seems to be a particularly dangerous season. Mariners are urged to take special care during the shortening autumn days to close and dog watertight hatches, make sure alarms are functioning properly, check out survival suits, rafts and EPIRBs, and generally “batten down the hatches.”

In other words, Beware the Ides of October.

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Fishermen Rescued After Sinking Near Kodiak

The U.S. Coast Guard has reported that five fishermen were rescued from an island south of Kodiak early this morning after their 58-foot-long fishing vessel struck a rock and started taking on water.

According to Coast Guard spokesperson Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley, the crew of the KODIAK ISLE contacted watchstanders just after midnight Thursday. They then donned survival suits and abandoned ship in a life raft that drifted ashore on Sitkinak Island, as the Coast Guard issued an urgent marine information broadcast and sent an MH-60 Jawhawk helicopter to the area.

“The helicopter crew arrived on scene at 2 a.m., spotted a flare from the fishermen, and safely hoisted the five men who were transferred to Kodiak with no reported injuries,” Mosley wrote.

Coast Guardsmen praised the Kodiak Isle crew’s preparedness, as well as the specific steps they took to assist their rescue.

“The fishermen took the proper steps to help ensure their safety during this emergency situation,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Lauren Brady, a Coast Guard Sector Anchorage watchstander. “They immediately alerted us that they had an emergency and needed help. They then put on survival suits and entered their life raft with flares and an emergency location beacon, which allowed the helicopter crew to quickly locate them.”

The KODIAK ISLE was still afloat as of 2:30 a.m. when the helicopter departed the scene, but another flyover will take place Thursday to locate the vessel and assess potential safety concerns. The vessel was reportedly carrying about 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel.

A nearby weather buoy reported winds of 10 to 20 mph

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F/V MOONLIGHT MAID sinks

This past weekend Coast Guard Sector Anchorage received a mayday call from crewmembers of the 110′ commercial fishing vessel, the F/V MOONLIGHT MAID. The fishing vessel encountered high winds and 13′ seas before when it began taking on water. At the time, the fishing vessel was more than 30 miles south of Resurrection Bay.

A Jayhawk helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak launched and rescued the four fishermen from a life raft at 10:51 p.m. The managed to don their survival suits before abandoning ship. The men were safely transported to Seward at 1:03 a.m. Friday, with no reported injuries.

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One Dead, One Missing in F/V ADVANTAGE Sinking

The skipper of a Kodiak-based fishing vessel ADVANTAGE died Friday after the boat sank, authorities said. One crew member was missing and two others were recovering from hypothermia.

Four helicopter searches failed to find the crewman missing from the 58-foot ADVANTAGE, Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis said. An airplane continued the search.

As first reported by KMXT-FM, a Coast Guard helicopter went looking for the vessel shortly after midnight Thursday when an emergency locator beacon signal was received.

Skipper Leif Bolan and two crewmembers were rescued from a life raft and taken to Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center. Providence Health and Services Alaska spokeswoman Crystal Bailey confirmed that Bolan had died.

None of those rescued was wearing a survival suit, Francis said.

The Advantage went down about 15 miles southeast of Kodiak Island.

By the time the helicopter arrived on scene, the vessel had already sunk and only a debris field remained.

“It looks like it sank fairly quickly,” Francis said.

At the time, the National Weather Service was forecasting 8-foot seas in the area.

Francis said it is too early to know why the fishing boat sank.

Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

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Fishing Boat Sinks, Crewman Missing Near Kodiak

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Three crewmembers were rescued from a fishing boat Friday after it sank south of Kodiak Island but one crewman remained missing, the Coast Guard said.

As first reported by Kodiak Public Radio, KMXT-FM, the search for the missing crewman aboard the 58-foot vessel ADVANTAGE began shortly after midnight.

The Coast Guard was first alerted to a problem when the command center in Juneau received an emergency radio beacon indicating the location of the vessel 14 miles southeast of Kodiak Island.

After several attempts were made to contact the boat by radio, the Coast Guard launched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and crew from Air Station Kodiak to go to where the emergency beacon indicated the distressed boat was located.

By the time the helicopter arrived on scene, the fishing vessel had already sunk and just a debris field remained where the Advantage went down.

“It looks like it sank fairly quickly,” said Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.

At the time the boat sank, the National Weather Service was forecasting 8-foot seas in the area.

The three crewmembers were found in a life raft. None of them was wearing survival suits.

They were hoisted to safety at 1:55 a.m. and brought back to Kodiak where they were treated for hypothermia at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center, she said.

The helicopter with a fresh crew returned to the area of the sinking vessel to look for the missing crewman. The search continued all night.

By noon Friday, Francis said four searches of the area had been made but there was no sign of the missing crewman.

Francis said conditions were favorable for searching with 2-foot seas, good visibility and a water temperature of 52 degrees.

She said the search would continue for the foreseeable future.

The names of the crewmen have not been released.

Francis said it is too early to know why the fishing boat sank.

Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

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Report: Need for Fishing Vessel Safety Reform

The Center for Public Integrity, an investigative news organization based in Washinton, D.C. has published a report on fishing vessel safety issues. The following is excerpted:

Commercial fishing is the deadliest vocation in the United States. Four years running, from 2007 to 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked commercial fishing as the most dangerous occupation in the United States. From 2000 to 2010, the industry’s death rate was 31 times greater than the national workplace average.

The U.S. Coast Guard has been granted only spotty powers to safeguard commercial fishing vessels, and the industry, steeped in a tradition of independence on the high seas, has long resisted government intrusion. Yet some longtime fishermen from Alaska to New England agree the federal safety net has left workers vulnerable.

“This has been an industry where there just hasn’t been a vigorous pursuit of safety at the federal level,” said former congressman James Oberstar, who held fishing safety hearings in 2007 as chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

For decades, safety advocates and government regulators have pushed for mandatory inspections of the often decades-old boats that take to deep water to bring back scallops, fish, squid and lobster.

And for decades, Congress has stood still. Despite the strikingly high death rate among the men and women who live by the boat, the federal government has never required inspections of commercial fishing boats. The Coast Guard performs voluntary exams of safety equipment, and Congress recently acted to make those dockside reviews mandatory. But the law has yet to mandate detailed inspections of the vessels themselves.

“Fishing vessels are uninspected, so the Coast Guard doesn’t have jurisdiction to go on and look at the condition of the vessel. There’s no standards that a fishing vessel has to be built to or maintained to. That’s much different than a ferry or cargo ship,” said Jennifer Lincoln, a NIOSH epidemiologist based in Alaska who leads the agency’s Commercial Fishing Safety Research and Design Program.

“Every time there’s a vessel loss with high numbers of lives lost and the Coast Guard has done an investigation, one of the recommendations that always comes back is that these vessels should be inspected,” Lincoln said. “There’s industry push back: ‘That would be an expensive thing to do.’”

The National Transportation Safety Board has argued for vessel inspections and, in 2010, held a forum on fishing safety. “Fishermen tolerate long absences from home, inhospitable environments, and workplaces that are teeming with heavy, dangerous equipment while constantly in motion,” board member Robert L. Sumwalt III said at the hearing. “For some, the price paid is even higher: hypothermia, loss of limbs, and even death.”

From 2000 to 2010, 545 commercial fishermen died in the U.S., reported NIOSH, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of these deaths occurred after a vessel disaster, with boats sometimes swallowed by the sea. Another 30 percent involved fishermen falling overboard. Other deaths came from accidents on board, or while crew were diving or injured on shore.

The Coast Guard’s website includes a Hiscock report, “The Tragedy of Missed Opportunities,” that details failed reform attempts dating years. In 1999, a Coast Guard task force issued Living to Fish, Dying to Fish, a report citing the industry’s high casualty rate and lack of deep reform.

“Despite long-standing recognition of the serious hazards of commercial fishing, a long succession of proposed laws were not enacted,” the report concludes. “Many fishermen accept that fishing is dangerous, and lives are often lost. Many of those harvesting the bounty of our ocean frontier staunchly defend the independent nature of their profession, and vehemently oppose outside interference.”

In 1988, Congress passed the Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act, requiring fishing boats to carry survival craft, personal flotation devices and other safety equipment on board.

The regulations went into effect in 1991. A year later, the Coast Guard sought authority to inspect fishing boats. Approval never came.

“Whether the industry was lobbying enough or Congress didn’t see the need for it, we just weren’t given the authority,” said Jack Kemerer, division chief of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Fishing Vessels Division.

Kemerer said the 1988 law and subsequent tweaks have helped drop death tolls from even higher numbers in the 1980s. “There have been improvements based on the law and safety programs and safety initiatives,” he said.

“But,” he added, “fishing still remains the most hazardous occupation in the country.”

In 2007, the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation held hearings, citing a string of tragedies from Alaska to Maine that had taken 22 lives in recent months.

Still, a question begs: If inspections came, who would pay for them in an industry with approximately 20,000 federally documented fishing boats and some 50,000 state registered vessels?

“We’re talking about hundreds of inspectors that would be needed, but right now with the budget climate the way it is, there’s no way we could get the number of inspectors,” said Kemerer. “It would be great to have it. The challenge would be: How do we accomplish it?”

Hiscock, the former House official, questions just how hard the Coast Guard has pushed for a full vessel inspection program. “They’re not up there lobbying for inspections constantly,” he said.

In Alaska, a safety campaign supported by industry helped lower the death totals. There, NIOSH studied the industry’s high fatality rate and focused on the sectors, such as the crab fishery, with the highest numbers. “NIOSH would look at the fishing data for the entire state, and we identified a hazardous fishery and then we worked with the Coast Guard and crab fishermen,” Lincoln explained. “What can we do to prevent these fatalities from happening?”

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Fisherman Survives Near Miss

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Coast Guard says a member of a fishing vessel crew survived after falling overboard without a lifejacket in the frigid waters of Prince William Sound.

Coast Guard spokesman David Mosley says the Seward-based PHOENIX reported the crew member missing at 8:51 p.m. Saturday, August 18, 2012, a couple minutes after he was last seen.

The Coast Guard issued a marine alert about the incident, which occurred near Green Island.

Mosley says the PHOENIX turned around and found the man, who was not injured.

According to Mosley, the man was in the water for five or six minutes. He says water temperatures at the time were in the low- to-mid 50s.

The man’s name has not been released.

Anderson Carey Alexander is a maritime law firm with offices in Seattle and Bellingham, Washington and Portland, Oregon. Over the past three decades, we have represented hundreds of injured seamen and families of those lost at sea. In numerous cases, crewmembers have fallen overboard or been cast into the sea after a shipwreck. Unfortunately, in many of these cases death has resulted from drowning or hypothermia. But even in cases where rescue has been accomplished, survivors have sometimes suffered from symptoms of cold water immersion and/or PTSD. Anderson Carey Alexander has recovered millions of dollars on behalf of seamen who have survived a fall overboard and on behalf of the families of those who have perished.

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Time for Fishing Industry to Get Behind Immigration Reform

The Alaska fishing industry tests the metal of American workers. Anyone who has watched “The Deadliest Catch” can appreciate the extraordinary demands of shipboard labor in the North Pacific. Not only crabbers but trawlers, longliners and processors are subjected to long hours in an environment more stressful than any encountered elsewhere in the civilian workplace. Yet they return each fishing season to Dutch Harbor, a port at the extremity of human habitation, to board vessels to be buffeted by the forces of nature for weeks and months at a time, while they engage in strenuous labor in lengthy shifts punctuated only by brief opportunities to retire to a cramped bunk in a tiny stateroon for a few hours rest.

Among Alaska fishermen, those whose native language is Spanish are notable for their grit, determination and resourcefulness. Without ethnic stereotyping, it is still fair to say that Hispanics are among the most diligent and dedicated shipboard employees in the Bering Sea.

At Anderson Carey Alexander, we have represented hundreds of injured seamen, including dozens of immigrants from Mexico and Central America. Our Latino clients have been among the most deserving of our considerable efforts on their behalf. They have often been first generation immigrants who came to the U.S. in search of opportunity, just as others have done for centuries. Some have sent money home to their native lands to support parents, spouses and children. Others have been able to establish households in the U.S. and support their children’s quest for education and advancement. When Hispanic fishermen have met with misfortune, we have been proud to assist them in securing fair and just compensation for their injury claims.

In our view, Latino immigrants are a boon to our culture and economy. We applaud measures to protect them from discrimination and to help those who are willing to engage in an orderly process to achieve legal immigration status.

The U.S. Supreme Court has just spoken on the subject of immigration law. In Arizona v. United States, decided yesterday, the Court struck down provisions of an Arizona statute which conflicted with federal law. The decision makes it clear that the federal government has the primary role on immigration.

We urge those in the fishing industry, who benefit from the tenacity and dedication of immigrant workers, to support candidates for federal office who propose a workable and honorable path to citizenship for all Latino immigrants.

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Reckless Disregard for Seaman’s Rights – Punitive Damages

Admiralty law is steeped in tradition. Many of its principles derive from sources as ancient as the maritime code of the Isle of Rhodes. But in the past two decades, the law of maritime personal injury has been in flux.

The pivot point is the U.S. Supreme Court case of Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., 48 U.S. 19 (1990). In that case, the Court held that only “pecuniary” claims could be made for wrongful death of a seaman. The case eliminated claims for loss of society and future lost income.

Subsequent lower court cases relied on the Miles opinion to deny recovery of punitive damages, which were deemed non-pecuniary. Punitive damages for wrongful failure of a shipowner to pay maintenance and cure, and for unseaworthiness, were withheld for nearly two decades.

Then in 2009, the Court decided the case of Atlantic Sounding v. Townsend, 129 S.Ct. 2561 (2009). There, the Court upheld a claim for punitive damages for willful failure to pay maintenance and cure. The Court corrected the mistaken interpretation given Miles by the lower courts, and held that punitive damages are still available under the general maritime law, insofar as they were available before the Jones Act was passed in 1920.

Recently, lower courts have held that punitive damages are available not only is cases of wrongful failure to pay maintenance and cure, as established by Townsend, but for unseaworthiness resulting from callous disregard for crew safety. This rule was most recently applied in the matter of Osage Marine Services, Inc., Case No. 4:10-cv-1674, E.D. Mo. March 5, 2012. The Court stated: “Following the analysis of Atlantic Sounding, the Court concludes that punitive damages are available under general maritime law for unseaworthiness claims.”

These recent cases make it clear that an injured seaman is entitled to punitive damages if the cause of injury is “willful and wanton misconduct by the shipowner in the creation or maintenance of unseaworthy conditions.” In re Merry Shipping, Inc., 650 F.2d 622 (5th Cir. 1981). Such conduct reflects “a reckless disregard for the safety of the crew.”

As the Court in Merry Shipping observed:

“Punitive damages should be available when a shipowner has willfully violated the duty to furnish and maintain a seaworthy vessel. The shipowner’s duty stems from the recognition of ‘the hazards of marine service from unseaworthiness places on the men who perform it . . . and their helplessness to ward off such perils.’ Punitive damages would serve to deter and punish owners whose reckless acts increase these hazards.”

The net result of the Supreme Court decision in Townsend and its recent progeny is that the general maritime law of unseaworthiness is restored to its pre-Miles state. Unseaworthiness gives rise to a claim for compensatory damages, and unseaworthiness resulting from reckless disregard for crew safety warrants an additional award of punitive damages.

The lawfirm of Anderson Carey Alexander has represented injured seamen for more than three decades. In 1987, before Miles, the firm obtained a jury verdict for punitive damages for wrongful failure to pay maintenance and cure and for unseaworthiness against the largest tug company in the world. During the period after Miles, and before Townsend, we saw numerous cases where punitive damages would have been appropriate, often for delay or failure to pay maintenance and cure, and sometimes for unseaworthy conditions which were recklessly permitted to exist. In one post-Miles case, we secured a District Court ruling which sustained a punitive damages claim for wrongful failure to pay maintenance and cure. Ridenour v. Holland America Line, 806 F.Supp. 910 (W.D.Wash. 1992). But the Ninth Circuit subsequently ruled to the contrary in another seaman’s case.

On behalf of our seaman clients, we applaud restoration of the right to punitive damages in cases of maritime injury or death. In the area of payment of maintenance and cure, we have already seen the effect. Shipowners are less inclined to breach their sacred duty of paying these seaman’s benefits, now that they are faced with the prospect of punitive damages.

Restoration of punitive damages in cases of reckless disregard for crew safety will likewise have a salutary effect on shipowner conduct.

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