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Nine Deaths in Chinese Shipwreck

Nine people have died and seven remain missing after a fishing boat sank off the coast of the northeastern Chinese seaport of Dalian, maritime authorities said.

The boat with 17 people on board sank in the wee hours of Wednesday amid strong waves during an attempt to hook the boat to a larger vessel, the authorities said.

The bodies of nine of the fishermen were recovered at around 3:30 p.m., while another seven people are still missing.

The only person rescued from the sinking boat is listed is good condition at a hospital in Liaoning province, where Dalian is located.

Authorities said a rescue operation involving a helicopter, seven maritime patrol vessels and 120 other boats was still ongoing.

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More Mayhem on Gulf Oil Rig

An explosion tore through an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico last Friday, triggering a fire and injuring at least 11 people, authorities said.

Rescue planes and helicopters are searching for at least two crew members who are still missing.

The incident happened roughly 20 miles off the coast of Grand Isle, Louisiana, on a platform used for production, not drilling. About 28 gallons of fuel spilled into the region, according to Coast Guard Response Division Chief Ed Cubanski. A half-mile oil sheen reportedly stretched near the area.

The 11 injured were airlifted off the platform, and nine additional crew members were safely evacuated off the platform, according to the Coast Guard. Four of the injured were taken to West Jefferson Medical Center in Louisiana where they were listed in critical condition, a hospital spokeswoman told CNN. Once they stabilized, they were scheduled to be transferred to the Baton Rouge General Burn Center.

The fire has been extinguished, according to a spokesman for Black Elk Energy, the Houston-based firm in charge of the platform. Federal authorities are investigating what triggered the explosion.

The incident came a day after the Justice Department announced that oil company BP would plead guilty to manslaughter charges stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The London-based oil giant BP has agreed to pay $4.5 billion in government penalties.

Working in the oil industry is a dangerous business. The fatality rate for oil and gas workers is 15.8 deaths per 100,000 employees, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s nearly five times the national average.

In 2011, there were 11 fatalities in the oil and gas industry, according to BLS.

Most of the deaths were accidental, and criminal charges are never filed. The manslaughter charges brought against BP and two of its employees Thursday were rare. Only a handful of all workplace deaths in the United States result in criminal cases, according to the union AFL-CIO.

Anderson Carey Alexander is a maritime personal injury lawfirm. For over three decades, we have represented merchant seamen, fishermen, longshoremen and oil rig workers and their families. Attorneys at the firm are available for free consultation, without obligation, to explain the rights of injured maritime workers and the families of those lost at sea. We may be reached at 1-800-BOATLAW (262-8529) or on the web at www.boatlaw.com.

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BP to Pay $4 Billion in Settlement

Last week Oil giant BP Exploration and Production Inc. settled a series of federal charges related to its conduct in the 2010 DEEPWATER HORIZON disaster, which killed 11 people and caused the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.

In addition to pleading guilty to 11 counts of felony manslaughter, one count of felony obstruction of Congress, and violations of the Clean Water and Migratory Bird Treaty acts, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the company will pay US$4 billion in criminal fines and penalties.

Holder said the settlement has been set up so that more than half of the money paid out will go directly to residents of the Gulf Coast region.

“Our work is far from over,” Holder said at the Thursday press conference. “Our criminal investigation remains ongoing.”

Two top-ranking BP supervisors aboard the Deepwater Horizon on April 20, 2010 – Robert M. Kaluza, 62, of Henderson, Nev., and Donald J. Vidrine, 65, of Lafayette, La. – have been charged with engaging in negligent conduct in a 23-count indictment that includes felony manslaughter charges.

Part of the agreement signed by BP admits that the two supervisors negligently caused the deaths and the resulting oil spill from the explosion.

Former BP executive David I. Rainey, 58, of Houston, has also been charged with obstructing Congress by giving false testimony on the amount of oil being released by the rig after it was destroyed.

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Tug Runs Aground in Alaska, Crew Rescued

Five crewmembers from the POLAR WIND were rescued after the tug and the barge it was towing went aground.

The Northland Services tug was 20 miles from Cold Bay when it became separated from the barge it was dragging behind it. The two vessels went adrift while the crew was trying to reconnect the towline. According to Coast Guard Petty Officer David Mosley, weather was a factor.

The Coast Guard received a distress call at around 9pm on Tuesday, and sent out two helicopters to respond to the situation. Mosley says that the rescue was made five hours later, and had to be completed in two rounds.

Having rescued the crew of the POLAR WIND, the Coast Guard and the Department of Environmental Conservation are now working to reduce the impact to Alaska’s coastline. The tug and barge were carrying more than 23,000 gallons of diesel fuel at the time of the grounding along with smaller amounts of lube oil and other petroleum-based products. The barge was also carrying 90 refrigerated containers, 30 of which were in use. The contents of these containers have not been disclosed, as the Coast Guard is still waiting on a cargo manifest.

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Alaska Ferry Worker Injured in Bellingham

On Friday, November 2, an Alaska ferry worker was injured after a support cable snapped on the passenger loading ramp she was standing on at Bellingham Cruise Terminal, in Fairhaven.

The female Alaska Marine Highway ferry ramp operator, who was not identified, was standing near the edge of the passenger ramp at 3:20 p.m., lowering it into place on the stern of the ship, witnesses said. Just as it got parallel with the ground, a cable snapped – it wasn’t clear why – and the ramp collapsed. Some wooden pilings kept it from falling further. The worker fell a distance of about 20 feet, landing on the damaged ramp.

“I thought it was a freaking earthquake,” said TJ Tjomsland, of Sitka, Alaska, who was waiting to board the ferry. “The speculation is she had a head injury.”

Other witnesses said she seemed to have hurt her back. Port officials didn’t know how she landed. Workers rushed to her and called an ambulance. The injured ferry worker was taken to St. Joseph hospital. No update on her condition was available Friday evening.

The M/V COLUMBIA, a 418-foot vessel, was scheduled to leave the terminal, 355 Harris Ave., at 6 p.m., but was delayed.

Ryan Hardy, who had a ticket for the Alaskan coast, saw the incident from the terminal.

“She started to move (the ramp) and I could hear something pop,” he said. “It shook, and then there was another pop.”

Then she fell, as the ramp buckled about two dozen feet from the edge of the vessel.

No foot passengers were boarding the ferry at the time of the accident. A few had already driven vehicles onboard.

Foot passengers had to board through the vehicle loading area, because the ramp was “completely broken,” said Port of Bellingham spokeswoman Carolyn Casey.

The ramp is owned by the Port of Bellingham.

Source: Caleb Hutton, Bellingham Herald

 

In Washington, state ferry workers look to the Jones Act and general maritime law when they sustain on-the-job injuries. The State of Washington has waived its sovereign immunity for maritime worker injury claims.

This is not the case for Alaska Marine Highway workers. With the enactment of Alaska Statute 09.50.250(5), the Alaska legislature rescinded its waiver of sovereign immunity for maritime workers employed by the State. The statute survived a constitutional challenge in the case of Glover v. State of Alaska. Consequently, Alaska ferry workers injured on the job have no civil cause of action against their employer, the State of Alaska. They are instead covered by state workers’ compensation. However, where third parties cause or contribute to accidents, the general maritime law may provide additional remedies for the seamen.

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Coast Guard Orders Washington State Ferries to Keep Crew Members

The Coast Guard has sent a letter to state and union officials, demanding that the Washington State Ferry system restore the crew complement on several of their boats for safety reasons. In the 8-page letter, the Coast Guard said they made the decision by analyzing all of the responsibilities each crew must undertake.

“(We analyzed) the crew’s ability to perform normal duties of operation and maintenance, and their ability to perform emergency duties, such as firefighting, vessel evacuation, man overboard, and security threat response,” wrote Scott Ferguson, U.S. Coast Guard, Commander, Sector Puget Sound.

In a letter to WSF director David Moseley, Cmdr. Ferguson said the agency was restoring an ordinary seaman to the Jumbo boats — WALLA WALLA and SPOKANE.The changes will go into effect within 30 days, according to the letter. They came after boat captains sent concerns about the cuts to the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard analyzed what numbers would be sufficient in worst-case scenarios like onboard fire and abandon ship.

Unions that represent ferry employees had lobbied the Coast Guard to increase the minimum levels of crewing. In June the ferry system reduced the number of employees on several vessels to save money. That angered many employees who did not believe sailing at the lower levels was safe.

“I don’t think there should have been a reduction in the first place, and the Coast Guard made the proper decision after reviewing the facts,” said Dennis Conklin, Puget Sound Region director for the Inlandboatman’s Union, which represents the ordinary seamen. “We put it in the Coast Guard’s hands to make that decision, which is the way it should have been done in the beginning, and they should have had all the facts instead of the limited facts the ferry system gave them.”

“We’re definitely happy about it,” said Conklin. “They should have never decreased manning in the first place. It was a safety issue. There are risk factors there.”

The manning requirements imposed by the Coast Guard place some political and economic issues in high relief. There will be those who contend that the union is “feather-bedding” with the complicity of the Federal government. Others will applaud the Coast Guard’s insistence on sufficient crew to protect passengers and the waters of Puget Sound. All of which is complicated by state budget constraints and the need to move people and vehicles across our inland wateways.

It appears the Coast Guard took the correct approach, by analyzing the duties of crewmembers and requiring sufficient personnel to discharge those duties. At the end of the day, safety considerations must be paramount.

The admiralty and maritime lawfirm of Anderson Carey Alexander has represented injured seamen for more than three decades. We have proudly represented members of the Inland Boatman’s Union in casualty litigation. We stand with the union and with the Coast Guard in support of manning requirements which protect the safety of passengers and crewmembers alike.

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BOUNTY Sailed In Spite of Dire Warnings

Hurricane Sandy caused a replica of the HMS BOUNTY to sink off North Carolina coast yesterday. A crewmember died and the captain is missing.

Reports now indicate that the vessel sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia bound for St. Petersburg, Florida to participate in a tall ships event. The decision to sail was made despite weather forecasts predicting the huge storm system now infamously known as Sandy. A skipper of another tall ship which was contemplating departure from the East Coast at the same time as the BOUNTY has indicated that the decision to sail was negligent. The weather forecast was so ominous that a decision to wait out the storm was “very simple.” If so, sailing into the teeth of the storm was at least negligent if not reckless.

It may be expected that the family of the deceased crewmember will assert a maritime wrongful death claim under the Jones Act and the Death on the High Seas Act. This is a case in which the vessel owner is likely to petition for limitation of liability. If so, the question will be whether the fateful decision to sail was made “within the privity or knowledge” of the shipowner. If not, the claimants’ recovery will be limited to the value of the wrecked BOUNTY and her pending freight, if any.

Experienced maritime plaintiff’s counsel will likely be able to establish negligence and/or unseaworthiness of the vessel. It is also probable that the shipowner’s plea for limitation of liability will be denied. It is likely the owner had some input regarding the negligent decision to sail, and there may well be other grounds for liability which were within the owners “privity or knowledge.” Any defect in the vessel that contributed to cause the tragedy and was either known, or should have in the exercise of due diligence have been known to the owner, will defeat a claim for limitation of liability.

Anderson Carey Alexander is a maritime law firm serving injured seamen and the families of those lost at sea. We have represented clients in shipwreck cases for over three decades. We are available for consultation at 1-800-BOATLAW. and can be visited on the web at boatlaw.com.

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Hurricane Sandy Pegs Beaufort Scale

As Hurricane Sandy pummels the East Coast of the U.S., there is much discussion of wind speed. The forecast is for 90 mile per hour winds.

Wind speed has long been of interest and concern to mariners, since the resulting wave action can cause havoc at sea. Before the age of technology, and instruments capable of registering exact wind velocities, sea-going folk shared a sense of the signs of wind speed, such as wave height, whitecaps, spray, foam and spindrifts. In 1805, the Englishman Sir Francis Beaufort developed a scale. It can be found at the following NOAA site: www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/beaufort.html.

According to the scale, which is still used by mariners, whitecaps develop at 7-10 knots of wind speed. Spray starts to appear at 17-21 knots. White foam streaks off breakers at 29-33 knots, which is defined as a near gale.

At the level of a hurricane, which is over 64 knots (75 m.p.h.) of wind speed, the Beaufort Scale speaks of: “Air filled with foam, waves over 45 feet, sea completely white with driving spray, visibility greatly reduced.”

If winds over the North Atlantic today are anywhere near 90 m.p.h., the ocean will be a maelstrom. There is much talk of damage ashore, but we must extend our hopes and prayers to those at sea who have been unable to find safe refuge. Not to mention those in what have traditionally been safe refuges but will be overcome by the unprecedented force of a storm which defies categorization under the Beaufort Scale or any other.

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Tragedy of HMS BOUNTY

Hurricane Sandy may have claimed its first American victims today as it sank a tall ship and washed away two crew members as they tried to board a life boat.

Fourteen people were rescued from the floundering HMS BOUNTY early this morning and an urgent search is on in the churning seas for the two missing sailors.

The BOUNTY, a three masted ship, was 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, N.C., when the owner called saying she’d lost contact with the crew Sunday night, The AP reported. The BOUNTY is a 180-foot replica of the ship featured in the film “Mutiny on the Bounty.”

“There have been 14 people rescued and there are two that are still unaccounted for,” Jordan Campbell, Petty Officer, First Class told ABCNews.com.

The survivors were taken to Air Station Elizabeth City on the North Carolina coast. Lt. Junior Grade Brendan Selerno told ABCNews.com that two people were admitted to the hospital, one with a broken arm and one with an injured back.

The ship left Connecticut last week for St. Petersburg, Fla. The crew had been in constant contact with the National Hurricane Center and tried to go around the storm, according to the director of the HMS Bounty Organization, Tracie Simonin.

But the ship got caught in Sandy’s fury and began taking on water. The crew was forced to abandon ship during the night and get into lifeboats, wearing survival suits and life jackets.

“What we know is that the whole crew was getting ready to board the life rafts, and as they were about to board, three people ended up on the water. One was able to get out [of the water] and get into rafts, and the other two are still unaccounted,” Selerno told ABCNews.com.

Cold water survival suits, also called Gumby suits, staved off hypothermia for the shipwrecked sailors.

Coast Guard video of the rescues shows the sailors being plucked from covered life rafts and hauled into the helicopter.

A Coast Guard plane spotted the ship before it went down and directed two rescue helicopters to the scene. At 6:40 a.m., the H65 Jayhawk helicopters hoisted 14 people out of their lifeboats and into the choppers.

The survivors were taken to Air Station Elizabeth City on the North Carolina coast.

The Coast Guard is conducting a search and rescue operation for the missing. Currently a C120 plane and a helicopter are on the scene and Coast Guard Cutter Elm and the Coast Guard Cutter Gallatin will be sent to aid in the search.

Initial reports said there were 17 people on the Bounty, but the manifest indicated the ship only has 16 people aboard

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Tour Boat Grounding in San Francisco Bay

Two weeks ago, a collision killed 38 people aboard a passenger ferry near Hong Kong. Two days ago, nearly two dozen people survived the sinking of a tour boat in San Francisco Bay. The first incident was tragic, the second merely ominous. Both incidents should have been avoided with the use of current technology and the exercise of reasonable care. A collision should never occur in fair weather with unimpaired visibility. A grounding on a marked shoal is, as in the case of the Italian cruise ship COSTA CONCORDIA, inexcusable.

The San Francisco Bay episode occured this past Friday night, October 12. The 45-foot NEPTUNE, billed as the Bay’s only “floating wine tasting room,” was carrying guests at a bachelor party when the vessel hit a shoal near Alcatraz Island and began sinking on Friday night, October 12. According to a Coast Guard spokesman, the boat hit the shoal around 8:42 p.m. and started taking on water after the impact left a 1-foot gash in the side of the boat.

The boat’s captain tried to steer the stricken vessel to San Francisco’s Pier 39. But the boat started having rudder issues and began to sink about 300 feet from the pier, the Coast Guard said.

Three Coast Guard boats took all 22 passengers and crewmembers off the vessel and brought them to the pier. San Francisco fire and San Francisco police boats also responded.
There were no injuries.

In this day and age, with GPS (not to mention Loran, radar, and sophisticated depth sounders) a vessel should never, ever, run aground on a charted shoal. There can be no excuse for Friday’s incident. Thankfully, the sinking did not occur as quickly as that of the Hong Kong passenger ferry, but lives were put at risk as a result of operator negligence.

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