The Aleutian Enterprise Sinking
On March 22, 1990, the Aleutian Enterprise sank in the Bering Sea, resulting in the deaths of nine crew members. Twenty-two crew members narrowly escaped drowning. The Aleutian Enterprise was a 143-foot factory trawler operated by Arctic Alaska Fisheries. Investigation into the sinking of the Aleutian Enterprise revealed repeated safety violations that needlessly lead to the vessel's sinking. Tragically, the operators of the Aleutian Enterprise did not have a safety education and training program for the Aleutian Enterprise.What Happened?
Although the holds of the Aleutian Enterprise and her fish bins were nearly full, the captain of the vessel attempted to pull a large cod end. The cod end weighed approximately 100,000 pounds more than was permitted by the trim and stability booklet. As the net was being hauled aboard, the intermediate portion of the net broke open causing tons of fish to spill to the port side. This caused the vessel to take on a sharp list. In the processing room, holes had been cut into the hull of the vessel to discharge the fish processing waste.
These hull openings were not fitted with watertight closures, or "flapper plates," to prevent unintended down-flooding. The Coast Guard Investigation found that the watertight fittings were nonexistent or poorly maintained. The progressive down-flooding of the processing deck lead to the capsizing of the vessel within minutes. Calculations determined that it took just three to four inches of water on the processing floor to create a capsizing situation.Safety Training Is Paramount
Little, if any, safety training had been provided to the crew of the Aleutian Enterprise. Testimony stated that the general alarm bell was malfunctioning, and the bell casing was being used as an ashtray in the galley. The crew had not conducted proper abandon ship drills and/or survival training. The vessel's survival gear was stored in inaccessible areas, preventing the crew from getting to the survival suits as the vessel sank. Passageways that would have provided emergency exits for the crewmen below decks were blocked by fiber.
The Coast Guard investigation found fault with the captain of the Aleutian Enterprise for numerous actions. The Coast Guard blamed the captain for failure to determine the cause of flooding on the processing deck during the previous voyage and correct it. They also found fault with the captain for failure to issue a timely abandon ship order to the crew, despite evidence the vessel was in immediate danger of sinking. The Coast Guard further found that Aleutian Enterprise did not have a load line assigned to it, as required by federal regulations.How We Helped
Following the sinking of the Aleutian Enterprise, the vessel owners filed a limitation of liability proceeding in United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. Seattle-based maritime wrongful death attorney represented two of the deceased crewmen, settling the final death case on the morning trial was to have begun. In making claims for the deceased crewmen's families, hired multiple experts, including naval architects, pathologists, and psychologists.
The evidence would have shown that crewmen were trapped in the hull of the vessel in air pockets as the vessel sank. Additionally, the pathologist and psychologist would have testified about the physiology and psychology of death by drowning. Many of the surviving crewmen filed claims under the Jones Act for post traumatic stress. The testimony of the surviving crewmen showed the importance of emergency training and abandon ship drills.
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