Maritime Injury Law Blog
Published on:

A father and son, identified as 75-year-old Larry Roger McWilliams and 48-year-old Gary Roger McWilliams, died Monday, May 30th, after their fishing boat overturned in Glacier Bay National Park. The cause of the vessel capsize remains a mystery, as the weather was clear and calm at the time of the incident.

Four addition passengers aboard the privately-owned, 21-foot aluminum vessel made it to safety. Tom VandenBerg, who was aboard the vessel at the time of capsize, reported that a fellow passenger swam to a nearby island and flagged down a passing boat. He credited this effort as the sole reason that the four survived.

The fishing boat overturned about 10 miles from park headquarters, and officials swiftly dispatched large and small search vessels to the site after receiving word of the incident. Two passengers were found by charter boat operator, Jim Kerns, while others remained in the water. The crew of a tour vessel, the Wilderness Discoverer, pulled the father and son from the water to perform CPR, but were unable to revive the two.

Published on:

On Friday, June 24th, the group of friends were slowly cruising in their pontoon boat along the Rock River in Oregon. Statements from Phil Lukes, a passenger on the pontoon boat, and Al Overton, owner of River Road Marina, revealed that a fishing vessel appeared out of nowhere, and loudly commanded the attention of everyone near the river.

 The vessel struck the pontoon boat, tragically killing 31-year-old Megan Wells, who leaves behind 3 children. Nicholas Lamb, a 29-year-old passenger also aboard the boat, was transported to Rockford Memorial Hospital to be treated for his injuries.

 Both Overton and Lukes insisted that this heartbreaking incident be a message for all boaters to act with increased caution, and a call to improve safety measures.

Published on:

On Saturday, June 25, The U.S. Coast Guard received word of an incident aboard the 79-foot fishing vessel, Pacific Star. A medevac flight by a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter was sent to the vessel traveling about 74 miles southeast of Kodiak, Alaska.

The call for assistance by the operator of Pacific Star reached Coast Guard Sector Anchorage at approximately 11:03 a.m. A deckhand had been struck in the head by deck rigging and, as recommended by the duty flight surgeon, required medical attention.

The helicopter arrived at the scene just before 1 p.m. Saturday. According to Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer 1st Class Kelly Parker, the Jayhawk crew was able to lift the injured man on board, despite weather conditions that included 6-foot seas and 29-mph winds.

Published on:

Spencer Vaughn Brewer, 20, was crushed between two barges and killed in the mouth of the Naknek River, AK, on June 29, 2016. Brewer, of Seattle, WA, worked as a deckhand for Naknek Barge Lines, a subcontractor of Alaska Marine Lines. The mouth of the Naknek River merges with Bristol Bay in the desolate, turbulent seas outside of Naknek and South Naknek in Southwest Alaska.

According to investigations by the Bristol Bay Borough Police Department (BBBPD), on 6/29 Brewer rode on the tug CROSS POINT from Egegik to the mouth of the Naknek River where three barges were moored. One barge’s mooring line had fouled underneath a buoy, so Brewer, wearing a PFD, transferred to a smaller vessel and then climbed onto the buoy to fix the problem. The fierce outgoing tide pushed the barge into the buoy and knocked Brewer off balance. He fell into the water and the tide sucked him underneath the barge.

Brewer resurfaced between two of the barges as they were being pushed together. Witnesses said they told him to get underwater to get out of the way. He tried, but the PFD prevented him and he was crushed.

Published on:

The Seattle Fishermen’s Memorial is sponsoring their first “Fishermen’s Safety Fair.” The day long event on May 16th will be held at Dock 9 at Fisherman’s Terminal in Ballard.  Prizes will be awarded throughout the day to participants and those attending the festival.   The festival is to promote commercial fishing safety with free practical skill training and education given throughout the day to crewmen and boat owners.  Skills stations providing information and instruction on survival suits and life rafts, man overboard rescue and recovery, personal flotation devices, flares and signals, and Mayday distress calls have been planned.  Participating in the safety fair will be the United States Coast Guard, NIOSH, NPFVOA, local fishing companies such as Trident Seafoods, and marine safety companies including Fremont Maritime.

Seattle is home base for much of the Alaska and Bering Sea commercial fishing fleet, and all local commercial fishermen and their families are invited to participate in the free fair designed to heighten safety awareness and provide basic introduction to marine safety topics that save the lives of commercial fishermen. The sponsor of the Seattle Fishermen’s Memorial event offers rebates for maritime safety training in vessel stability, first aid, firefighting and drill instructor training.  To determine your qualifications to obtain these valuable rebates, visit the Seattle Fishermen’s Memorial home page.  There is no excuse to not be trained in safety and to have the proper safety equipment aboard your vessel.  Your life and your crew’s lives depend on proper safety training and safety equipment.



Published on:

April 18, 2016

Three fishermen have been rescued from the water at Makah Bay following the capsizing of their fishing vessel. The vessel was able to radio a Mayday message via VFH radio to the Coast Guard before the vessel capsized.  The three men were wearing lifejackets and sitting on top of the overturned vessel when the 47-foot Coast Guard life boat arrived on the scene.   The accident involved a small 21-foot fishing vessel.  The men were transported to the Coast Guard Station at Neah Bay.  One man was treated for hypothermia following the incident.

Vessels big and small must always be prepared for an emergency. Having proper safety equipment aboard your boat that is available to quickly be used may mean the difference between surviving and not surviving a sudden accident such as this.  Today VFH radios are relatively inexpensive and, as this case proves, well worth the investment when disaster suddenly strikes your vessel.   It is a well recognized statistic in sinking and capsizing cases that your chances of survival are far higher if you are wearing a life jacket.

Published on:

April 15, 2016

Three crewmen from the commercial fishing vessel Privateer have been rescued by the Coast Guard. The seventy-five foot fishing vessel began taking on water in eight foot swells Friday afternoon approximately a mile from Grays Harbor.  The vessel’s crew radioed for help, stating that they were taking on water through an 8-10  inch hole and were preparing to abandon ship.  A motor life boat from the Coast Guard Station in Grays Harbor was dispatched and attempted to aid the vessel with dewatering pumps; however, the pumps could not keep up with the flooding and the crew was forced to abandon the sinking vessel.   There were no reported injuries in the accident, although one crewman was evaluated for possible heart problems.

The Coast Guard indicated that the crew of the Privateer appeared to be well trained and prepared for an emergency such as this.  However, commercial fishing vessel sinkings continue to happen with far too much regularity along the Washington and Oregon Coast.  Maritime safety regulations now require all commercial fishing vessels  to carry mandatory life saving equipment such as EPIRBS and survival suits.  Fishing vessels are also required to conduct regular safety drills in abandon ship procedures.  However, for most fishing vessels there are few safety requirements relating to regular inspection and maintenance of the vessels’ hull and machinery.  The cause of this accident is currently unknown and under investigation by the Coast Guard.

Published on:

APRIL 1, 2016

A Seattle Federal Court Jury has awarded an Alaska Ferry worker and her husband 16 million dollars in total compensatory damages for injuries she suffered when a gangway she was working upon collapsed at the Port of Bellingham.  Shannon Adamson, a Mate aboard an Alaska Ferry, was injured in an 18 foot fall in November of 2012 when a large gangway she was standing on, while lowering the gangway for passengers to board the ferry, suddenly collapsed.  Experts in engineering safety determined that critical safety controls for the gangway had not been installed, allowing potentially lethal slack to develop in the cables used to raise and lower the ramp.  Following a two week trial, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Adamson and her husband Nicholas.

The passenger gangway, which was owned by the Port and being leased by the Alaska Ferry system, had previous problems and was involved in a near collapse in 2008. Following the first gangway failure, engineers working for the Port of Bellingham recommended that a safety “limit switch” be installed, which would have prevented the operation of the controls in such a manner that the pins used to lock the gangway into position could not be removed if cables used to lower and raise the gangway had been previously  slacked.  The Port of Bellingham failed to install the recommended safety limit switch which would have cost just a few dollars to install.

Published on:

Friday, The United States Coast Guard placed limitations on the movement of deep draft vessels across the Coos Bay Harbor entrance. The action came following the capsizing of the SARA JO on the Coos bay bar last week.   One crewman died in the sinking of the 49 foot SARA JO, and two men are reported injured.  The Coast Guard has cautioned all vessels navigating in the Coos Bay bar area to keep a sharp lookout for possible wreckage and debris.  The cause of the SARA JO loss is under investigation by the Coast Guard.

Published on:

A fisherman aboard the BARBARA J has been airlifted for medical treatment. The crewman reportedly was injured in a fall down the vessel’s stairs and needed emergency medical treatment.  The accident happened on Sunday near Unimak Pass.  Weather conditions were reported as 29 mph winds with 6 foot seas.  The crewman was taken by helicopter to Cold Bay, where he was transferred to Anchorage for further medical treatment.

Slip and falls down vessel stairs and vessel ladders frequently result in serious injury to fishing boat crewmen.  It is important that all vessels have safely constructed and designed ladders.  Stairs should be constructed at safe angles, have proper rise and depth, have non slip surfaces, and be equipped with proper hand rails.  Current safe construction standards for vessel stairs can be found in ASTM F-1166-07.