Articles Posted in Maritime Safety

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Crab_fishing_boatThe overall safety of the commercial fishing industry is becoming safer every year. Those are the findings in a report issued by NIOSH in July of 2017. However, experts agree that an area that needs improvement concerns outdated stability reports. The US Coast Guard requires all fishing and crabbing vessels to carry a stability report which has been prepared by a Naval Architect. Problems arise when these reports are out of date.

According to A Best Practices Guide to Vessel Stability published by the US Coast Guard, vessel stability is defined as “the ability of a fishing vessel to return to its upright position after being heeled over by any combination of wind, waves, or forces from fishing operations.” If a vessel is “unstable”, it does not have sufficient ability to counter these external forces, therefore it is susceptible to capsizing.

The two variables in the stability equation are buoyancy and gravity. Buoyancy is the force acting to push the vessel up in the water, making the vessel float. In stability analysis, the total buoyancy forces are distributed over the part of the hull below the water, and the buoyancy of a vessel is a fixed variable as it is based on the architecture of the vessel. Gravity is the force acting to pull the vessel down in the water. The total weight of the vessel includes all gear, fuel, catch, ice, bait, etc. These weights are distributed throughout the hull, and mathematically combined into a single point called the center of gravity. Because weight is constantly being added and subtracted from a vessel, gravity is not a fixed variable; it is constantly in flux.

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Disembarking-via-gangway-OSHAWe have all heard that working in the commercial fishing industry is the most dangerous type of work in the nation. Commercial fishing has long topped the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ list of jobs with the most injuries and fatalities. However, many accidents happen before boats leave the dock or upon returning from sea. This is because many vessels are not seaworthy, and seaworthiness begins with safe access to ladders, walkways, gangways, and gangplanks.  Gangway related injuries and fatalities are so common that The Shipowners’ Protection Limited, a mutual insurance organization, has published a report titled Gangways, which can be read in full here. 

Under Maritime Law, a vessel is considered unseaworthy when a vessel is poorly kept or poorly maintained. In some cases, ship owners may fail to supply proper means for the crew to pass from ship to shore. A seaworthy vessel must have well-maintained equipment that is in working order. Workers must be properly prepared and trained, and routes for boarding, disembarking, and loading a vessel must be hazard-free. Jumping on or from the vessel is not an option. Even if the vessel is less than a foot from the dock, the ship owner is required to provide a safe passage for workers to and from the dock. When evaluating a case, a lawyer will consider the nature of an injury as well as the seaworthiness of the vessel.

Maritime work is dangerous by its very nature. However, that does not mean that workers must accept a high level of risk. There are many federal and industry safety standards that apply to boarding and disembarking a vessel, including Coast Guard regulations and OSHA regulations. If these safety standards are ignored, there can be liability on the part of the vessel owner. For example, using a gangway to board a vessel does carry some amount of risk. But that risk is mitigated when safety precautions and guidelines are followed. If, however, safety is ignored, then the act of using the gangway carries unacceptable risk. This is considered negligence and unseaworthiness. Workers MUST have a safe and well-maintained way of getting aboard and disembarking a vessel.

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Coast_Guard_Sentinel_CutterAstoria is set to receive two new lifesaving Sentinel-class cutters. One has already been deployed in Ketchikan, the USCGC John McCormick. These are part of a Coast Guard plan to commission 58 new Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters, replacing aging Island-class cutters.

The new cutters are 154 ft. long (compared to the 110 ft. Island-class) and feature technology updates, such as weapons systems upgrades, small boat stern launch capabilities (to achieve safer and more efficient operations), and a five knot speed increase over the Island-class vessel. Command, control, communications, and intelligence systems have been updated with state of the art technology. The Sentinel-class cutter can reach speeds in excess of 28 knots, and the new small boats can reach speeds of 40 knots.

The new Sentinel-class vessels are to be named after enlisted Coast Guard servicemen and women who distinguished themselves in the line of duty. The first deployed cutter of its class, the USCGC Bernard C. Webber, is named for the Coxswain of the 36-foot wooden Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat CG 36500, which pulled one of the most daring rescues in Coast Guard history. Webber and his crew faced 60-foot seas to rescue 32 crewmen from the SS Pendleton in February, 1952.

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Stacey-and-Jacobsen-Cropped-e1481062312338On March 9, 2017, in a landmark case handled by Stacey and Jacobsen, PLLC, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled unanimously that punitive damages may be awarded to injured fishermen and seamen when the case involves a general maritime unseaworthiness claim. Where an employer recklessly provides a vessel or equipment that is not reasonably fit, the employee may bring a separate additional claim of punitive damages. This ruling is a precedent setting victory for maritime workers throughout the nation. No other State Supreme Court has yet ruled on this issue. We are very pleased that employees now have an additional weapon in their arsenal to obtain justice and, at the same time, hopefully curtail dangerous conduct of shipowners.

Allan Tabingo was a deckhand aboard F/V AMERICAN TRIUMPH when the accident occurred. After fish are brought aboard the vessel, a hatch is opened on the deck so that deckhands can shovel the fish through the hatch for processing. To move the last of the fish from the deck into the hatch, a deckhand must get down on all-fours and push the remaining fish through the hatch using their hands. Tabingo was on his knees gathering the fish when another deckhand began closing the hatch. The deckhand realized that Allan Tabingo’s hand was in danger, and tried to stop the hatch from closing. The handle on the hydraulic control valve was broken and repeatedly popped out of the valve. The hatch closed on Tabingo’s hand, severing two of his fingers. The vessel operator had been aware of the broken control handle for two years prior to the incident, yet failed to repair it. In fact, the crew tied one end of a piece of line around the handle and the other end to the ship’s rail so that when the handled popped out, it would not fall overboard. Alan Tabingo suffered the amputation of two fingers and the loss of his livelihood.

Tabingo filed suit in King County Superior Court against the vessel operator, American Seafoods. He asserted Jones Act negligence and general maritime law unseaworthiness claims. The punitive damages claim was based on the precedent setting 2009 Supreme Court of the United States ruling in Atlantic Sounding v. Townsend. The trial judge decided that punitive damages did not apply and dismissed Tabingo’s claim. Tabingo appealed to the State of Washington Supreme Court.

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HandXRay-300x262Allan Tabingo was injured at sea due to defective machinery on his employer’s fishing vessel.  A hydraulic lever controlling a fish hatch had been defective for two years. When the hatch operator tried to activate the hydraulic lever to stop the hatch from closing, the handle on the lever popped out of the valve. The hatch could not be stopped.  The result was a traumatic hand injury and the loss of a father’s livelihood. The accident could have been prevented had American Seafoods simply repaired the handle when it was found to be defective two years earlier.

On January 17, 2017, lawyers in the case of Allan Tabingo vs. American Triumph LLC argued in the Washington State Supreme Court the question of whether an injured seaman may recover punitive damages when injured on an unseaworthy vessel?  You can view the arguments here. Originally denied at the trial court, this case was chosen for a fast track (“interlocutory”) appeal and sent to the Washington State Supreme Court due to the importance of this issue for injured fishermen and seamen.

The Jones Act and Maritime Law already provide for Compensatory Damages.  An injured seaman may recover a monetary amount necessary to replace what was lost due to his/her injury. Compensatory Damages usually cover:

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Rscue-300x199Two weeks of Coast Guard hearings and testimonies this past month are slowly revealing the mystery behind the July 26th sinking of the Alaska JURIS that forced 46 crewmembers to abandon ship in the Bering Sea. Chief Engineer aboard the JURIS, Eddie Hernandez, was a key witness for Coast Guard attempts to reveal operations of the vessel’s owner, Fishing Company of Alaska. The company teams with a Japanese fish buyer, Anyo Fisheries, and continues to operate three factory trawlers whose crews process and freeze catch.

This is not the first time that Fishing Company of Alaska has been at the center of a major Coast Guard inquiry. In fact, many issues that surfaced during the Alaska JURIS hearings paralleled the 2008 sinking of FCA’s Alaska Ranger. In both instances, there were reported gaps in a Coast Guard inspection program, chronic vessel maintenance issues, and safety conflicts between a U.S. crew and Japanese workers.

Although the report on the Alaska JURIS is not expected for months, the hearings offered a look at conditions and operations aboard the vessel. Crewmember Carl Lee Jones revealed in testimony problems surrounding rusting pipes, run down crew quarters, and Japanese crew members who refused to participate in safety drills.

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Injury_at_seaIf you are a maritime worker or commercial fisherman, you already know that work at sea is dangerous. Jones Act or maritime law is in place to give rights to workers as well as an extra layer of protection. Know your rights, and if an accident does occur, we recommend that you follow these guidelines:

1. Report the Accident – It is imperative that you let your supervisor or captain know immediately that you have been injured. Jones Act or Maritime Law requires the injured party to report any work-related injury within seven (7) days, but don’t wait that long. The insurance company may assume that if you didn’t report the accident right away, it wasn’t very serious, so don’t wait. If you get hurt while working and you believe that your injuries need medical attention or have even the slightest chance of causing you to miss work, report it right away.

2. Seek Medical Attention – The law requires your employer to see that you receive medical treatment for your injuries. If you are at sea and your injuries are serious, the ship should have the Coast Guard medevac you to a hospital. If you are far out at sea or in international waters, a Coast Guard helicopter may be able to pick you up as soon as you are within range of the United States. The ship has the ability to consult with a physician by phone or radio if your condition is serious. And, if you are in a foreign country, your employer must get you proper medical treatment and get you back home at their expense. Your employer must pay for all medical attention that you need if you are injured or become ill while in the service of the vessel.

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Hank William Hoskins Sr. of Whatcom County died on October 26, 2016, after a scuba diving accident at Gooseberry Point near Sucia Island.

According to Bellingham Fire Department Assistant Chief Bill Hewett, the diver’s oxygen supply was cut off due to an apparent equipment malfunction at approximately 4 p.m.

It was reported by the boat crew that Mr. Hoskins, who was diving for sea urchins, had been underwater for about 5 minutes before being pulled aboard. He was rushed by boat about 10 miles east of Sucia Island to Gooseberry Point, where aid crews helped bring him ashore. Mr. Hoskins could not be revived. He was 40 years old.

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LakeCrescentCoastGuardStudents and chaperones from Stevens Middle School in Port Angeles, Washington were rescued from Camp David Jr. on Crescent Lake by the U.S. Coast Guard on Friday, October 14th.  According to the Coast Guard, Sector Puget Sound received a call at approximately 3:45 p.m. reporting that 40 kids and 6 adults were stranded without power in a cabin at the popular Clallam County Camp. Due to high winds and fallen trees, David Junior Road was impassable by vehicle, blocking all access to U.S. Highway 101.

The Coast Guard responded quickly, assisted by deputies from the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office.

“With that amount of kids there, and the fact that emergency services could only get to them by boat, the decision was made to go out there and boat them over before the major storm hit on Saturday,” said Clallam County Chief Criminal Deputy Brian King.

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2 Sailor Cold BayTwo sailors arrived in Kodiak on Wednesday, September 28th, 2016 seeking medical treatment due to the sinking of the sailboat Rafiki.

The men were sailing 230 miles south of Cold Bay, in 7 mph winds and 6-foot seas, when the engine compartment began to fill with water. They contacted Coast Guard 14th District in Honolulu, who transferred the call to Coast Guard 17th District in Juneau.  The Rising Sun, a nearby vessel, was diverted toward the Rafiki as backup.  The sailors were instructed to activate and remain with their EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), and with the vessel, until evacuation was absolutely necessary.

A HC-130 Hercules long-range aircraft arrived promptly at the scene and dropped survival suits to the sailors, who were then rescued by a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter for transport to Sand Point. There, the Hercules picked them up for transport to the hospital.