Approximately 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.
Work aboard a factory trawler is demanding. The hours are long, often 12-16 hours per shift, seven days per week. Workers are often paid a share of the catch rather than an hourly wage. Workers are lined up, often side by side in cramped conditions and across from one another. And therein lies the problem; like the hotspots we see in the meat processing industry all around the country, the same risks of exposure hold true in seafood processing. The virus spreads rapidly among workers who are in close proximity for long periods of time. Workers and crewmembers are unable to practice social distancing. Just one infected person can spread the disease quickly through a vessel.
COVID-19 is a disease that is transmitted by respiratory droplets. These droplets are spread during social interactions and when in close quarters with workers who are either symptomatic or asymptomatic. Vessel owners have an obligation to keep crewmembers safe and healthy and may have liability if workers become ill in the service of the ship. Vessel owners may also have obligations to third-party visitors and passengers. If you have questions, have become ill on a vessel, or believe you have been wrongly exposed to the disease while working on a vessel, please contact the attorneys at Stacey and Jacobsen, PLLC for a free consultation.