One of the most deadly jobs in America is commercial Dungeness crab fishing, yet according to a new study from Oregon State University (OSU), many non-fatal injuries in the industry largely go unreported.  The study conducted by OSU found the rate of fatal injuries in commercial Dungeness crab fishing to be 65 times higher than the rate for all United States workers; however, the nonfatal injury rate was 3 times lower. For example, from 2002-2014 28 people died while commercially fishing for Dungeness crab, while only 45 injuries were reported. In addition, it was found that the majority of deaths occurred during vessel disasters such as capsizing or sinking. Furthermore, the most common reported injury was fractures; 47 percent of nonfatal injuries occurred on-deck when fishermen were working with gear.  Researchers found the cause of underreporting to be the result of concerns of financial and regulatory repercussions. Barriers to reporting also may play a role in the underreporting of injuries.

The research that OSU has found is part of a project, The Fishermen Led Injury Prevention Program (FLIPP), which is designed to take a new approach to fishing industry injury prevention by working with commercial Dungeness crab fishermen to identify and reduce injury risks.

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On January 19th, a commercial fishing boat, named the Eagle III, sank at the entrance to Coos Bay after colliding with the north jetty.  The 40-foot crabbing boat, based out of Port Orford, Oregon, contained four members. The vessel’s captain is the only known survivor of the wreck, while the U.S. Coast Guard found the remains of one of its members, amongst a large debris field, and searched for the remaining two members.  Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in America and we are proud to represent many of these very hard workers who routinely put their life on the line.


According to a report in the Kitsap Sun, a man attempted to jump from the ferry M/V WALLA WALLA on Saturday night about 10 minutes after the ferry departed from Edmonds at 6:15 p.m. The man was arguing loudly with his female companion and attempted to jump over the rail into the cold waters of Puget Sound. Ordinary seaman Logan Batchelor intervened quickly and was able to prevent the man from getting over the rail before others came to his assistance.  His swift actions with the help of others in the area likely saved the life of the man attempting to jump over the rail.

As lawyers representing WSF employees, we are proud of the work that our clients and friends at WSF perform to keep the ferries running and the public safe. We congratulate Logan Batchelor on his quick intervention that likely saved the life of a man at a time of need.

An employer is negligent for failing to provide its employees with sufficient space to safely conduct their work. For example, in Ribitizki v. Canmar Reading & Bates, 111 F.3d 658 (9th Cir. 1997), a seaman was assigned to work in a pit room on an oil drilling ship. The open area of the pit room was a rectangle four-feet by sixteen-feet. Within this space was a sink, a hatch in the deck, and a guarded opening for a stairway. While unkinking a hose cleaning the pit room, the seaman was injured when he walked backward or slipped into the open hatch. The employer argued that nobody had complained about the safety of the pit room before the incident and that no other employees had been injured in the pit room. Holding that the failure to provide adequate space for the crew to perform their work supported negligence, the Ninth Circuit reversed the trial court and stated:

“Ribitzki stated in his deposition that the pit room was an unsafe place because it provided insufficient space for him to perform his assigned task. . . Due to the configuration of the pit room, there was only 24 inches of deck space between the open hatch and the pit room bulkhead. It was in this contricted space immediately adjacent to the open hatch where Ribitzki performed his maneuver to unkink the hose. To get the kinks out of the hose, he turned around with his back to the open hatch and the hose above his head. When he did so, he stepped or slipped and fell into the opening. A jury could find from this evidence that the pit room in the area where Ribitzki fell was an usafe place for him to work.”

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A vessel may be rendered unseaworthy because of improperly maintained surfaces that are slippery and are prone to cause injuries. Compare Nicroli v. Den Norske Afrika-Og Australielinie Wilhelmsens Dampskibs-Aktieselskab, 332 F.2d 651, 654 (2d Cir. 1964) (affirming finding of unseaworthiness where wet and melted sugar had made the deck slippery), Troupe v. Chicago, D. & G. Bay Transit Co., 234 F.2d 253, 258 (2d Cir. 1956) (holding that triable issues of fact existed as to whether the vessel was unseaworthy because certain steps “were so painted and maintained as to be excessively slippery, especially when covered with water from a rain”), Courville v. Cardinal Wireline Specialists, Inc., 775 F. Supp. 929, 936 (W.D. La. 1991) (finding unseaworthiness “because of the absence of non-skid tape or some other appropriate skid resistant surface on the steep steps”), Jiminez v. United States, 321 F. Supp. 232, 233 (S.D.N.Y. 1970) (finding unseaworthiness where de-greaser solvent created a slippery condition and  [26] was allowed to remain unwiped while the workers lunched elsewhere without roping off the ladder or putting up any warning), and In re Sirret Offshore Towing Co., No. 96cv1228, 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13408, 1997 WL 539923, at *4 (E.D. La. Sept. 2, 1997) (finding that the vessel was unseaworthy in part because of the lack of anti-skid paint or mats), with Santamaria v. The SS Othem, 272 F.2d 280, 281 (2d Cir. 1959) (holding that “a deck made slippery [only] by rainwater does not constitute an unseaworthy condition”); See Drejerwski v. C.G. Willis, Inc., 587 F. Supp. 1515, 1517 (E.D. Pa. 1984) (holding that the jury could properly have found the barge owner negligent because the barge owner should  have known that the epoxy paint used on the barge would be “dangerously slippery in inclement weather” and “should have chosen a non-skid paint instead”).

If you sustain an injury as a result of a slippery condition on deck, it is important that you document what you slipped on in the incident report and take photographs of the condition, if possible.  You should also obtain the contact information for all witnesses who were present at the time of your injury.  Slips and falls out on deck are a common cause of serious injuries that can be prevented with regular maintenance of the deck and application of non-skid surfaces.

Failure of a vessel’s equipment under normal use constitutes unseaworthiness under the general maritime law. Havens v. F/T Polar Mist, 996 F.2d 215 (9th Cir. 1993); Lee v. Pacific Far East Line, Inc., 566 F.2d 65 (9th Cir. 1977); Marshall v. Ove Skou Redari A/S, 378 F.2d 193 (5th Cir. 1967), cert. den. 389 U.S. 828, 88 S. Ct. 86, 19 L. Ed. 2d. 84 (1967). “[T]hings about a ship, whether the hull, the decks, the machinery, the tools furnished, the stowage, or the cargo containers, must be reasonably fit for the purpose for which they are to be used.” Gutierrez v. Waterman Steamship Corp., 373 U.S. 206, 213, 83 S.Ct. 1185, 10 L. Ed. 2d 297 (1963). “The shipowner’s liability arising from an unseaworthy condition continues until it can be corrected and embraces the means employed to alleviate the dangerous condition.” Benedict on Admiralty, 1B at § 3-43-44 (7th ed. 1997) (emphasis added); see also Alaska Steamship Company v. Garcia, 378 F.2d 153 (9th Cir. 1967). In Garcia, a longshore worker was called upon to remedy an improperly rigged boom and was injured in the process lowering the boom. Holding in favor of the injured worker, the Ninth Circuit opined:

“The liability of the shipowner arising from this unseaworthy condition therefore continued until such correction could be made and, in our opinion, embraced any method or act employed in correcting the dangerous condition. Garcia was injured because the risk that the boom might fall materialized. This being the case, it is without legal significance that the unseaworthy condition might have been corrected in a manner which would have prevented the boom from falling.”

Id. at 155. Similarly, in Hudson Waterways Corporation v. Schneider, 365 F.2d 1012 (9th Cir. 1966), the Ninth Circuit posed the issue as “whether the doctrine of unseaworthiness protects a seaman injured while repairing a defective appliance.” Id. at 1013-14. The court held that the plaintiff was protected by the doctrine of unseaworthiness when he was shocked by a defective manual control switch box attached to an air compressor he was sent to repair. Ruling that the vessel owner was not exonerated because the seaman was sent to repair the defective air compressor, the Ninth Circuit held:

According to the Ceberingseaopis2082-2nter for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on-deck injuries account for 12% of all fatalities in the commercial fishing industry and the largest number of hospitalizations in non-fatal injuries. Most of these injuries (67%) occur on deck during the deployment and retrieval of fishing gear. In order to avoid injuries, employers should conduct a job safety analysis of their fishing gear deployment and retrieval process to look for ways to prevent injuries.

Vessel owners should also carefully evaluate the deck environment for slip and trip hazards as well as other common types of hazards out on deck. Crew fatigue is another common cause of injuries out on deck. The deck of commercial fishing boats are oftentimes congested with machinery and fishing equipment that can lead to severe slips and falls or entanglement. Many employers take inadequate measures to make certain that adequate guarding and safety features common in other industries are used on fishing vessels to prevent injuries out on deck.

Vessel owners should evaluate their vessels for the following safety equipment and measures:

During the last federal fiscal year eStacking Crab Pots in Alaska by Corey Arnoldnding on September 30, the U.S. Coast Guard reported that, for the first time in known history, no one died on the job while commercial fishing in Alaska. U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Phillip Thorne, chief of enforcement for the Coast Guard in Alaska, commented: “This is the first year, going back as far as we have records, that we didn’t have what I’ll characterize as an operational-related death.” Salmon fishing has replaced Bering Sea crab fishing as the deadliest fishery in recent years. While deaths did occur, the U.S. Coast Guard reports that they were unrelated to fishing operations.

According to NIOSH, in the prior year nine people died in Alaska fishing accidents, and there were 29 deaths nationwide. These numbers were the lowest since NIOSH started keeping record in 2000. Nationwide, commercial fishing deaths are on the decline. Many fisheries have been rationalized and consolidated, with quotas in place for individual boats instead of an entire fleet. Instead of boats racing out to catch the most fish in a defined period, fishing is slower under the quota system. As a result, there are less people making a living in commercial fishing and the fishing is slower, improving the safety of fishing operations. New equipment, including winch shutoffs, more comfortable life jackets, and better training has also improved safety.

The U.S. Coast Guard has increasingly emphasized safety exams for fishing vessels and recently began mandating exams nationwide for every fishing vessel that works more than 3 miles offshore. These safety examinations increase compliance with U.S. Coast Guard safety regulations and are designed to improve the most deadly form of accidents – vessel sinkings. With more federal observes required aboard Alaska fishing boats, safety issues are more regularly reported to the U.S. Coast Guard. Although six commercial fishing vessels sank between June and September in Alaska, there were no fatalities in those sinkings. In the past, vessel sinkings were the largest driver of fatalities and the recent survival of these crews may suggest that improved training is yielding positive results.

News broke Thursday, June 25 of a tragic float plane crash near Misty Fjords National Monument, about 25 miles outside of Ketchikan, Alaska. The crash resulted in the deaths of all onboard, including eight Holland America Line passengers and the plane’s pilot.

The sightseeing airplane ride had been arranged through Holland America Line as an excursion available to cruise passengers aboard the vessel M/S WESTERDAM. At the time of the crash, the plane was on its way back from Misty Fjords National Monument, a wilderness area of lakes, waterfalls, snowcapped peaks and glacial valleys accessible only by floatplanes or boats. It has been reported that the plane crashed into a rock cliff face 800 feet above Ella Lake.

Investigators are still working to determine the cause of the crash, and the wreckage will be flown back to Ketchikan via helicopter to be reassembled and checked for mechanical problems. The company operating the excursion was Promech Air of Ketchikan, Alaska. The plane was a DeHavilland DHC-3 Otter turboprop seaplane.



This matter came on for an evidentiary hearing, before the Court, sitting without a jury, on May 14, 2015. Plaintiff Jeffrey A. Hedges (Hedges) was represented by Robert M. Kraft, Richard J. Davies and Marissa A. Olsson of Kraft Davies P.L.L.C., and defendant Foss Maritime Company (Foss) was represented by Barbara L. Holland and Tyler A. Arnold of Garvey, Schubert & Barer. The Court has considered the evidence presented at the hearing, the exhibits admitted into evidence, the arguments of counsel, and being fully advised, makes its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law as follows: