Commercial fishing vessels must comply with safety regulations established by federal and maritime law. When violations are found during a boarding inspection, a vessel may be issued a violation and possibly a fine. When violations are particularly dangerous to the crew or the environment, they fall into a different category known as “especially hazardous conditions”. After finding several safety violations and environmental infringements, the U.S. Coast Guard terminated the voyage of the F/V Nushagak Spirit sighting “especially hazardous conditions”.
The vessel was located approximately three miles east of Umnak Island when the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Mellon, a 378-foot high endurance cutter based in Seattle, Washington, conducted the onboard inspection. They found one fishing violation, 14 safety violations, as well as the improper discharge of bilge water. The vessel master admitted to pumping bilge water over the side of the vessel, which is in direct violation of the Clean Water Act. The U.S. Coast Guard sent this vessel back to port. Federal law deemed this vessel “unseaworthy”.
“We perform at-sea safety inspections to ensure mariners are operating in compliance with commercial fishing vessel safety and environmental regulations,” said Capt. John Hollingsworth, 17th District incident management branch chief. “These regulations help ensure the safety of life at sea and protect our marine environment.”
Dockside safety exams are free and mandatory for all commercial fishing vessels that operate 3 nautical miles or more from land. Issues found while a vessel is docked may not result in a fine, however, the vessel master must make certain any violations are resolved before the vessel is underway.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, “especially hazardous conditions” include (but are not limited to) the following:
• An insufficient number of serviceable wearable personal floatation devices (PFDs)
• A missing or unserviceable survival craft
• A missing or unserviceable Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)
• Instability including an overloaded or improperly loaded vessel
• A missing or inoperable bilge system
• Intoxication of the operator or master
• Flooding or uncontrolled leaking in any space
• Insufficient or unserviceable firefighting equipment
• Improper, or inoperable navigation lights between dusk and dawn
• Missing or unserviceable life raft hydrostatic release units
• Missing or inoperable high-water alarm
• Missing or inoperable watertight closures
• Excessive volatile fuel (gasoline or solvents) or vapors in the bilge
• Emergency drills
• Missing or expired Certificate of Class – (Fish Processing Vessel)
• Loadline Certificate – (Fish Processing Vessel)
In addition to the bilge water troubles, the F/V Nushagak Spirit violations included the absents of a proper logbook, missing retro tape on three life rings, missing safety plans, and nine fire extinguishers that required inspection. Vessel owners have a responsibility and duty to their crew members to provide a safe and seaworthy vessel. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is the law.