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Deadly Charter Boat Accidents Mark Oregon & Washington Maritime History

Commercial fishing is certainly dangerous, but many of Washington and Oregon's worst maritime disasters have involved salmon charter boat fishing accidents. Passenger deaths on Oregon and Washington's charter boats are an ugly mark in the region's maritime history. Few safety regulations govern charter boat vessels and their captains. While there are many highly qualified and well equipped charter vessels in Oregon and Washington, there are others that operate on the fringe of safety. As fishing seasons shorten and hard economic times impact the charter boat industry, there are many vessels and operators that may present risk of injury or death to their passengers. It is a historical fact that unless proper safety precautions are followed, the lives of charter boat passengers can be placed at great risk. Unfortunately, when disaster does strike these vessels, wrongful death and injury claimants are shocked to learn that their charter vessel was woefully under insured or has no liability insurance at all.

In 2003, the Taki-Tooo, a 32-foot charter boat, sank while crossing the Tillamook bar, leaving 11 dead. Just eight passengers survived the accident. Many of the victims were not wearing basic flotation devices.

Just two years later, in 2005, the Sydney Mae II sank near the mouth of the Umpqua River in Oregon. Three passengers lost their lives in the accident and the captain of the charter boat was charged with seamen's manslaughter. The prosecution alleged the captain of the vessel ignored that the Coast Guard had closed the bar and negligently attempted to cross the bar in adverse conditions. None of the passengers of the Sydney Mae II were wearing life jackets.

In 1998, the 46-foot charter boat Cougar, home ported in Depoe Bay, sank while tuna fishing, resulting in four deaths. The vessel was not equipped with basic safety devices such as life rafts and EPIRB.

Washington has also seen the tragedy associated with charter boat vessel sinkings. In 1976, eight charter passengers drowned when the 41 foot disabled charter boat Pearl C was being towed across the Columbia River bar by a Coast Guard vessel. Despite hazardous conditions, the passengers were not instructed to wear life preservers. The Pearl C accident marks the worst maritime injury accident in Washington in recent history, but again emphasizes how the Columbia River Bar received its name as the Graveyard of the Pacific.

La Push Washington was the scene of seven charter passenger deaths in 1990 when the charter boat Gambler sank while crossing the bar. Evidence revealed that the Gambler's inspection certificate was not current and the vessel was not properly documented. At the time of the sinking, the bar had been reportedly closed to traffic by the Coast Guard. None of the passengers on the charter boat were wearing life vests.

Historical review of these accidents makes it clear that passengers may have been able to survive these accidents had they been required to wear life vests while crossing treacherous Washington and Oregon River and Bay bars. No regulations require passengers to wear life vests. In the past, life vests were bulky and restricted movements. Today, modern life vests can be easily worn. Modern buoyant work vests and water-activated life vests can be easily and comfortably worn. While operator negligence is considered the cause of many of the accidents discussed above, the passengers would have had a greater chance of survival had they been wearing life vests. The Coast Guard should consider regulations requiring passengers on charter vessels to wear life vests while crossing river and bay bars.

Charter passengers should carefully consider what boats they choose to go out fishing upon. Cut-rate operators and poorly equipped vessels should be avoided. A cheap charter trip is not necessarily a safe charter boat trip. Leaving port is optional; returning safely to port must be mandatory.

If you have been injured at sea, please contact an experienced maritime law attorney at Stacey & Jacobsen today for a free initial consultation and case evaluation.

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