Jones Act Attorneys Consider Fatigue’s Role in Abandoning of Fishing Vessel

Last week, we discussed the Bridge Navigational Watch Alarm System (BNWAS) automatic system that sounds an alarm if the watch officer of a vessel falls asleep, becomes incapacitated or if absent from the controls for any extended period. The “Consequences” section of the June 2013 issue of National Fisherman features another story demonstrating some of the dangers of fatigued crewmembers.

In March, the skipper and two-man crew of an 84-foot steel dragger were fishing for cod out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska, when the skipper reportedly decided that an evening haul-back during worsening weather would be the day’s last. National Fisherman reported that the first mate took the helm after the skipper asked to be awoken at 2 a.m., but the mate handed the helm over to the other crewmember at 1 a.m. A loud bang awoke the skipper at 2 a.m., as the vessel strayed into a reef area off the harbor entrance and hit a rock. Water was rising over the deck plates and was halfway up the side of the main engine.

According to National Fisherman, the skipper issued a mayday call, and the mate and crewman took a life raft, deployed it and tied it to the rail. The skipper grabbed the EPIRB, made one more radio call to verify his position and announced that the crew was abandoning ship. The vessel rolled over moments later, and two fishing boats arrived to help pick up all four survivors. Fortunately, nobody needed medical attention.

National Fisherman pointed out that one of the lessons that could be learned from this maritime accident is that skippers need to look for signs of fatigue in crewmen assigned to watches. While the crew said the watch alarm was in working order and typically set for 10 minutes, “nobody knew if it was on, was about to sound when the collision occurred, or if the helmsman was just so fatigued he never heard the alarm.” The magazine also noted that the incident demonstrated the benefit of conducting emergency drills.

Injured seamen or their families can be entitled to compensation under the Jones Act in accidents caused by incompetent crew or the negligence of another employee, and Latti & Anderson LLP has been helping individuals injured on the water for more than 50 years. Contact our firm today at (800) 392-6072 to set up a free consultation or enter your information in the form on this page to let our Jones Act attorneys review your case.

Latti & Anderson LLP – Jones Act lawyers