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Boat on the sea
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Florence_Oregon-300x200It is with great sadness that we report the deaths of two people killed early Monday morning after the F/V AQUARIUS collided with a jetty on the Siuslaw River Bar.

Coast Guard watchstanders at Sector North Bend received a distress call at about 1:50 a.m. from the captain of the vessel, stating that the vessel was taking on water and that all crew members were abandoning ship.

The 13th District command center received a signal from the vessel’s Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon [EPIRB] shortly after the call. The vessel sank near Florence, Oregon.

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Alaska-Iceberg1200x600Approximately 110 crewmembers from three American Seafoods ships have been diagnosed with COVID-19. The F/V NORTHERN JAEGER is docked at the Seattle cruise ship terminal while sick crew members recover. Others are in quarantine after exposure, many in Seattle area hotels. As of today, the F/V AMERICAN TRIUMPH, and F/V AMERICAN DYNASTY have reportedly returned to fishing.

American Seafoods CEO, Mikel Durham, reported that all workers were tested for Covid-19 before they boarded vessels and all crew members were quarantined for a minimum of 5 days, a much shorter period than the recommended 14 days. In a press release dated May 30th, 2020, American Seafoods announced that after COVID-19 outbreaks on three of their vessels they had adopted the recommended 14-day quarantine.

Pandemic safety measures intended for the fishing industry differ from state to state. In Washington, guidelines are recommended, but companies may choose to ignore them or create their own. In the Alaska Protection Plan for Independent Commercial Fishing Harvesters dated May 15, 2020, Governor Mike Dunleavy mandated that all people arriving in Alaska, including residents, workers, and visitors, are required to self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival in the state.

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Alaska-Iceberg1200x600STACEY & JACOBSEN, PLLC represents the two survivors in the SCANDIES ROSE sinking. The vessel owner (Scandies Rose Fishing Co., LLC) and the vessel manager (Mattsen Management LLC) have filed a Petition for Limitation of Liability in Federal Court Seattle. The vessel owner and manager initiated legal action arguing that they have no responsibility for the deaths of the crew and injuries to the survivors. As we understand the position of the owner and manager, they claim that they had no knowledge of the bad weather that was forecast for New Year’s Eve. The vessel owner and manager are taking this position even though a majority of the Kodiak fleet stayed at the dock that day due to bad weather. SCANDIES ROSE and Mattsen Management, however, claim that SCANDIES ROSE is a larger boat and did not need to heed the weather that was forecast for that day. Obviously, they were mistaken.

This Federal Court proceeding compelled the families and survivors to Answer the Petition and bring their own claims. Four of the five families of the decedents and the two survivors filed their legal pleadings, as required, before May 28, 2020. The captain was one of the owners of the vessel and his family did not file a claim. The parties will meet soon to work out a discovery plan and propose court dates. It is estimated that a trial date will be set sometime in mid-2021. Recently, the survivors filed Sworn Affidavits in a probate court in order to help the families obtain death certificates. The Affidavits contain chilling details of events that occurred in the final moments.

The survivors report that they were awakened when SCANDIES ROSE took a serious list to starboard. The entire crew ran up to the wheelhouse. Captain Cobban confirmed that the vessel had a serious list and that the vessel was sinking. He ordered everyone to get their survival suits on as the vessel continued the roll to starboard. At some point, before the survivors got out, the vessel was nearly on her starboard side. The crew struggled to put on their survival suits because the vessel was listing at such a sharp angle. Water began flowing into the starboard side (which basically had become the floor). The survivors report that they were able to climb up and out of the wheelhouse through the port side door. They were able to stand on the port side hull and called back for the other crew to get out. At that time, all the lights went out, and almost immediately, a wave knocked the survivors off the hull and into the sea. The two survivors were able to locate a life raft and climb aboard. They floated approximately five hours before being rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard. They never saw their fellow crewmembers again after they got washed off the hull.

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Wards-Cove-Alaska-1914-300x170When fishermen or crewmembers are injured or perish in accidents at sea—due to negligence or carelessness by the vessel’s owner, another crewmember, captain, or skipper—Jones Act Law requires that the injured party be compensated.

But what happens when vessel owners work to find ways around paying out what wrongfully-injured workers deserve? One strategy owners have tried is an archaic law called the Limitation of Liability Act. This obscure legislation is sometimes called on to limit a vessel owner’s liability after a particularly devastating accident in which property or life has been lost.

The act was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1851 (the same year that Moby Dick was published) to protect maritime trades and ship owners from complete financial ruin. However, many legal experts believe that this act is showing its age, and that it comes from a different era with different understandings of risk. The purpose of the act was originally to promote the development of the American merchant marine, which is now fully established.

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Lab_Worker_CDCFB-300x158In a press release issued last night, American Seafoods has reported that 86 crewmembers have tested positive for COVID-19, and nine more crewmembers are still awaiting results.

It was reported that one crew member became ill and was taken to a hospital while the ship was docked in Bellingham. That crewmember tested positive for COVID-19 and remains in a hospital for treatment after being admitted Friday.

According to a spokesperson for American Seafoods, all crew members were tested for COVID-19 by the University of Washington before boarding the vessel. Only those who tested negative for the virus were allowed to board.

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Cruise-ShipFB-300x158We will never know exactly how many passengers and crew have been infected with COVID-19 while on cruise ships. What we do know, is that Carnival Cruise Lines plans to resume its cruise operations on August 1, 2020. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it is estimated that 30 million passengers traveled on a total of 272 cruise ships within the year (worldwide total).

According to information posted on the Carnival website, eight ships will be put back into service in late Summer. As of this posting, they include the Carnival Dream, Carnival Vista, Carnival Horizon, Carnival Magic, Carnival Sensation, Carnival Breeze, and Carnival Elation. Ports of departure include Galveston, Texas; Miami, Florida; Orlando, Florida; and others.

Carnival spokesperson Vance Gulliksen said that the reopening of cruise ships “is fully dependent on our continued efforts in cooperation with federal, state, local, and international government officials. In our continued support of public health efforts, any return to service will also include whatever enhanced operational protocols and social gathering guidelines that are in place at the time of the resumption of cruise operations.”

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Astoria_FB-300x158Bornstein Seafood in Astoria, Oregon has closed until further notice due to an outbreak of COVID-19. Clatsop County Public Health began an investigation on May 4, 2020, after an employee at Bornstein Seafood tested positive for the deadly virus. More than one-third of 35 employees tested on Monday were positive for the disease. By May 5, 13 employees were ill with COVID-19, and more test results are pending. Contact tracing has begun, and workers at both Astoria plants have been asked to shelter at home until further notice.

Clatsop County Public Health reported that the 11 cases reported on Monday included four women—one aged 30-39, and three aged 40 to 49. Also testing positive were seven men—two aged 30 to 39, four aged 50 to 59, and one aged 60 to 69.

Before the outbreak occurred, a complaint was filed with OSHA by the Lower Columbia Hispanic Council against Bornstein Seafood. The complaint, filed on April 18, cited a lack of social distancing and a lack of personal protective equipment, and that some workers felt unprotected at work. With protective gear and temporal scanners in short supply, many companies are finding it challenging to procure equipment that meets county guidelines. OSHA has confirmed that the complaint is still open for investigation.

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Cordova_Alaska_aerial-300x177
Salmon fishing season is about to begin, but nothing is business as usual this year. In just a few weeks, about 400 fishermen and processing workers will arrive in Cordova, Alaska for the opening of King Salmon and Copper River Sockeye season. The town of Cordova has a full-time population of 2,100. With no road access, Cordova has no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the time of this post, and while most members of the community support workers arriving for the harvest (showers and bathrooms at the community center have been repurposed to serve the influx of workers), they also want to see that quarantine recommendations and other safe practices are maintained.

No one wants a repeat of the cruise industry crisis or infamous meat-packing industry outbreaks that have recently been in the news. The spread of COVID-19 in the South Dakota Smithfield Foods pork plant has been linked to over 640 cases of the virus, and 51 cases at the Tyson Foods meat-packing plant in Pasco, Washington. These are essential businesses that failed, for a variety of reasons, to keep their workers safe.

Trident Seafoods has reported that four processing plant employees have tested positive for COVID-19 as well as two office workers. Five have recovered and one is still at home convalescing as of April 20. The company is checking employees for fever daily and furthering their sanitation efforts. In response, Trident Seafood is requiring workers to quarantine for 14 days before boarding fishing and processing vessels. Many have checked into hotels and are being monitored by healthcare workers before going to sea. Although it may seem extreme, the precautions are an indication of how seriously the fishing industry is taking this public health crisis. The companies involved are acutely aware that an outbreak aboard a vessel at sea would be disastrous.

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Bountiful-300x167A 43-year-old man was medevaced after sustaining severe burns while aboard the F/V BOUNTIFUL. The vessel was located approximately 46 miles southwest of Saint Paul, Alaska at the time of the injury.

Watchstanders received the call at approximately 9:56 a.m. that a crewmember had been severely burned. After a brief consultation with the Coast Guard duty flight surgeon, an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Kodiak was launched. The injured man was safely hoisted then flown to Saint Paul and transferred to awaiting emergency medical personnel at approximately 2:56 p.m. A further transport to Anchorage was required for further medical treatment. Weather on the scene was reported as 8-12 foot seas, wind at 46 mph, with 12 miles of visibility.

Injuries caused by marine fires and explosions are some of the most painful and debilitating types of injuries. Burns can cause serious and permanent harm and must be treated immediately. Victims who suffer these types of injuries are protected by Federal Maritime Law. Seamen, fishermen, and crewmembers who are injured due to unseaworthiness or negligence are entitled to compensation for pain and suffering, psychological injuries, lost wages, lost wage-earning capacity, disfigurement, vocational retraining, and future health care expenses. In nearly every case, the injured party is entitled to maintenance and cure which includes the payment of all necessary medical expenses and rehabilitation costs. It should be noted that injured crewmembers also have the right to choose their own doctor/physician.

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ScandiesRoseFacebookWe are deeply saddened by the recent news of the sinking of the  F/V SCANDIES ROSE in Alaskan waters. We have been practicing maritime law for over 35 years and have handled dozens of sinking cases. Yet, the news of such a disaster is always shocking, tragic, and heartbreaking. The sinking of DESTINATION and MARY B II has barely faded from the front page when we now must face this catastrophic news.

We represented families of lost souls on these two fishing vessels. Below is an outline of what the families can expect from the insurance company involved in the SCANDIES ROSE case.

1. The insurance company will first appoint an insurance adjuster and hire their lawyers. The lawyers will stay behind the scenes at first and send the adjuster to meet with the families. The adjuster will try to “assure” the families that the insurance company will take care of the families. Of course, the insurance company and the adjuster are not friends of the families and will be pursuing the interests of the insurance company (that is, to minimize the amounts paid). The adjuster will probably “offer” to pay for a memorial service and fly family members to the service.

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