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Fisherman injuries

Fishing Vessel Safety Act

Maritime lawyers investigating injury and death claims aboard commercial fishing vessels oftentimes start their investigation by attempting to determine whether or not the vessel owner was in compliance with the Fishing Vessel Safety Act, 46 CFR Section 28. The Act is of particular importance in proving negligence in fishing vessel sinking cases and in cases involving failure to guard machinery.

Failure to comply with the Fishing Vessel Safety Act is strong and powerful evidence of a shipowner's negligence. Employers and vessel owners who do not comply with the Fishing Vessel Safety Act will likely be found negligent, and their vessels held to be unseaworthy. Remarkably, despite its commonsense requirements, many vessel owners continue to ignore the Fishing Vessel Safety Act.

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There are far too few regulations relating to fishing vessel safety as it applies to uninspected commercial fishing vessels. Approximately 80% of the 140,000 vessels subject to regulation by the Coast Guard are commercial fishing vessels. Working aboard a commercial fishing vessel has one of the highest rates of death of all occupations. Undoubtedly, crab fishing in Alaska is by far the most dangerous job in the world.

Reporting Your Injuries Is Crucial

Fishing accident injuries are highly unreported, and few employers comply with regulations requiring reporting of lost time accidents by commercial fisherman. Even the biggest fishing companies in the United States continue to fail to properly report the injury rate for their workers. Not surprisingly, it is difficult to compute injury rates when the employers and vessel owners repeatedly fail to comply with regulations requiring reporting of injuries. These companies likely do not want the Coast Guard and the public to know how dangerous working as a fisherman is. Making their vessel safe and protecting their crew from injuries cuts into their profits.

Serious injury and death of crewmen working as commercial fishermen remains far too common. Safety regulations only work if they are followed. The Coast Guard has far too few resources to attempt to inspect and enforce basic safety regulations. Changes in safety have been brought about largely by lawsuits brought on behalf of crewmen who have died at sea. Insurance companies raise the rates of fishing vessels that have repeat and high damage claims, thus forcing the vessel owner to take reasonable safety measures for their crew.

What Is The Fishing Vessel Safety Act?

Rescue in JuneauThe Fishing Vessel Safety Act is one of the few regulations to govern safety on fishing vessels. The original version of the Fishing Vessel Safety Act was passed in 1991. The Fishing Vessel Safety Act was not greeted with open arms by the vessel owners, and many small companies complained about the increased costs of EPIRBS, training, and basic safety equipment, such as life rafts. Hundreds of men continued to lose their lives in the Bering Sea crab fisheries. The Act was subsequently amended in 2001 and in 2002 following the sinking of the Aleutian Enterprise .

The Commercial Fishing Safety Act requires vessel owners to equip and maintain their vessels to certain minimum requirements, and to train their crews in basic safety procedures. The Fishing Vessel Safety Act has bare minimum requirements. Some of the more important requirements of the Fishing Vessel Safety Act provide in part for the following:

  • Report Marine Casualties on U.S. Coast Guard Form 2692: Report of injury is required in cases of loss of life, and in cases which require professional medical treatment and renders an individual unfit to perform his or her routine duties. Form 2692 specifically provides that the accident must be described in detail, and to make recommendations as to how the accident may be prevented in the future. The casualty reporting requirements of the Fishing Vessel Safety Act are designed to allow gathering of data so that the industry changes and regulations may be implemented to make the industry safer in the future. Unfortunately, there are no penalties imposed upon an employer for violation of the reporting requirements of the Fishing Vessel Safety Act.

  • Life Saving Equipment. The Commercial Fishing Safety Act requires each vessel, depending upon its size and area of operation, to be equipped with basic safety equipment. This includes life preservers, ring life buoys, distress signals, life rafts, survival craft, and EPIRBS. Each vessel is required to have basic fire fighting equipment. The master, or individual in charge of a vessel, must be sure the survival equipment is inspected and tested regularly. Survival craft must be inspected by facilities certified by the U.S. Coast Guard. The requirement that certain commercial fishing vessels be equipped with Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBS) has saved countless lives.

Documented vessels operating beyond the boundary line, or with more than 16 persons on board, are required to have additional safety equipment and training. These vessels must be equipped with a basic medicine chest, and have at least one person on board certified in both First Aid and CPR. United States Coast Guard

  • Guards for Exposed Hazards. The Fishing Vessel Safety Act specifically provides that suitable guards must be installed to prevent injury from machinery such as gearing, chains, belt drives, and rotating shafts. This guarding requirement requires a vessel owner to provide guards on fish processing vessel machinery such as fish headers, bait choppers, and skinning machines. Failure to comply with these regulations constitutes negligence in a Jones Act injury claim, and prevents any claims of comparative fault.

  • Alarms. Each vessel must be outfitted with appropriate alarms at the operator station. The general alarm system must be capable of notifying all individuals aboard the vessel of an emergency. Each alarm system must be checked prior to operation of the vessel and each week thereafter.

  • Communication Equipment. Each commercial vessel, depending open its area of operation, must be equipped with basic radio communication equipment. It is imperative for safety that commercial fishing vessels be equipped with communication equipment capable of contacting the Coast Guard in the event of an emergency.

  • High Water Alarms. The Fishing Vessel Safety Act requires vessels of more than 38 feet in length to be equipped with audio and visual high water alarms. All bilges and non-watertight compartments must be fitted with alarms, and all spaces with through hull fittings below the water line, such as the lazarette, must be fitted with high water alarms.

  • Bilge Pumps, Bilge Piping, and Dewatering Systems. The Fishing Vessel Safety Act requires each vessel to be equipped with a bilge pump and bilge piping capable of draining any watertight compartment under all service conditions. Fishing vessels more than 79 feet in length must be equipped with a self-priming, powered bilge pump, connected to a bilge manifold. Check valves must be installed in bilge systems and circulating seawater systems to prevent unintentional back flooding of tanks and compartments.

  • Safety Instructions and Drills. The master, or other person in charge of each commercial fishing vessel, must ensure that basic safety drills and instructions are given to each crewman on board at least once each month. These drills must be conducted on board the vessel as if there was an actual emergency, and must include participation by all individuals on board. Safety instructions and drills should be conducted only by "drill instructors" who are properly trained and certified according to the Fishing Vessel Safety Act. These drills and instructions must include the following:

  • Abandon Ship Drills
  • Recovering Man Overboard
  • Launching Survival Craft
  • Donning Immersion Suits
  • Firefighting Drills
  • Preventing of Flooding
  • Activating General Alarm
  • Radio Distress Calls
  • Emergency Source of Power. Each vessel subject to the Fishing Vessel Safety Act must have an emergency source of power, which is located outside the main machinery space. The emergency power must be capable of supplying all connected loads continuously for at least three hours. Equipment such as navigation lights, steering systems, bilge pumps, fire protection equipment, communication equipment, and general alarms, must be connected to the emergency power source.

  • Rails and Lifelines. The Fishing Vessel Safety Act requires installation of certain minimum deck rails, lifelines, storm rails, and hand grabs.

  • Stability. The Fishing Vessel Safety Act requires basic stability requirements and testing for certain commercial fishing vessels. Where substantial alterations are made to a vessel, new stability calculations must be performed. Stability instructions must be presented, taking into account different operating conditions for the vessel, and must be capable of clear and simple understanding by the vessel operator. Free surface effect in the vessel tanks must be considered and accounted for when calculating vessel stability. The effects of loss of stability caused by structural icing must be considered. Safety calculations must be made where a vessel's vertical center of gravity has been raised as a result of additions and modifications to the vessel. Ensuring that vessel operators adhere to basic stability requirements is critical to crewmen safety. Overloading crab pots onboard fishing vessels quickly leads to disaster. The vessel's stability booklet must be followed for the loads that may be safely carried. The vessel's stability booklet should provide guidance for fishing operations as to which fuel tanks should be filled, and in what sequence the tanks should be burned down. Free surface effect should be kept to a minimum at all times to maintain vessel stability.

The lawyers of Stacey & Jacobsen, PLLC have extensive experience in claims involving issues related to stability. Our maritime law attorneys have successfully handled many fishing vessel sinking cases involving overloading crab pots and excessive loading of trawlers.

  • Watertight and Weathertight Integrity. Each opening in a deck or bulkhead exposed to weather must be fitted with a weathertight or watertight closure device. Any opening in a vessel below the weather deck used for discharge of fish processing waste must be fitted to ensure the opening can be closed weathertight. The opening must be capable of being closed from a location outside the space containing the opening.
Safety First

No matter what your issues may be, our attorneys can help. We know the rules and regulations required of fishing vessels and can help you win your injury case in light of these requirements. Call our Seattle office at 866-974-9633 or send us a note online to get started.

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