At-Sea Processors, Coast Guard hold dialogue on casualty reporting

The following is the text of a press release issued by the U.S. Coast Guard:
(ANCHORAGE, Alaska) — The Coast Guard conducted a meeting with the At-Sea Processors Association during the North Pacific Fishery Management Council proceedings in Anchorage Thursday to discuss the requirements for marine casualty reporting.

During the summer and fall fishing season several vessels from several different fishing fleets had casualties that needed to be reported to the Coast Guard but the notification was never made or was significantly delayed. This action prompted the Coast Guard to conduct outreach to clarify the requirements that exist in the Code of Federal Regulations that require the company or the vessel’s crew to notify the Coast Guard immediately after addressing safety concerns whenever a vessel is involved in a marine casualty.

“We are building a relationship with the industry based on communication,” said Capt. Mark Hamilton, commander Sector Anchorage.

Coast Guard representatives discussed what qualifies as a marine casualty and the reporting process in detail with the attendees. Concerns from the association’s members such as impact to fishing time, challenges to repairs, the need for inspectors and the perception by fleet captains that reporting will result in being called off the fishing grounds were addressed.

In response to industry concern that reporting casualties would halt all operations Hamilton, stated, “We will evaluate each case based on risk. If we can safely keep a vessel out operating we will do so. Our intention is to safeguard life and the environment while facilitating commerce.”

Following a failure to appropriately report a marine casualty to the vessel’s propulsion system the crew of the 162-foot Seattle-based fishing vessel U.S. Liberator, a non At-Sea Processor Association owned vessel, was required to cease fishing and come to port arriving in Dutch Harbor September 28. There was significant concern by the Coast Guard for the safety of the crew as the vessel was listing slightly and has no reserve propulsion should the second shaft or engine fail.

This incident is a reflection of what can happen when there is a failure to report a casualty. In two other incidents fishing vessels suffering marine casualties were allowed to continue fishing. Continued operation was allowed because the ship’s design had sufficient redundancy to make up for the loss of equipment and allow for the safe continuation of the voyage and/or due to the nature of the casualty.

“Open and honest communication is key to getting these vessels back underway,” said Hamilton. “We have no desire to impede anyone and affect their livelihood but we have a responsibility to maintain the safety of the fleet.”

The meeting with the At-Sea Processors Association was an opportunity for the industry and the Coast Guard to have a dialogue and immediately address concerns and issues with the requirements for reporting.

“Both parties came away with a better understanding of the operational challenges and the processes for reacting to and working though casualties,” said Stephanie Madsen, executive director At-Sea Processors Association.

Further cooperation is planned between the two and the Coast Guard is looking at additional outreach to other associations throughout the industry.

“The ultimate goal for the Coast Guard is to keep these vessels fishing safely,” said Hamilton. “We are working now to really address the material conditions of the fleet so that we can minimize the risk of any future losses.”

The At-Sea Processors Association is a group of five companies that operate over 15 vessels in that participate in the Pollock fisheries. The membership includes: American Seafoods, Arctic Storm management Group LLC, Glacier Fish Co. LLC, Starbound LLC, and Trident Seafoods.

By Professional Mariner Staff