On Saturday, the Seattle-based crab boat F/V DESTINATION went missing in the Bering Sea, approximately two miles off of St. George Island, with six crewmembers aboard. St. George Island is located about 650 miles west of Kodiak Island, and has approximately 100 residents. The DESTINATION was on its way to begin the snow crab season.
The vessel’s emergency locator beacon (EPIRB) was activated at 6:11 a.m. on Saturday, and the U.S. Coast Guard and volunteers searched for nearly three days for the vessel and crew, without success. The EPIRB can be activated manually, or activates automatically upon hitting sea water. The Coast Guard received no mayday call from the vessel, which has led to speculation that whatever befell the vessel happened quickly. Volunteer vessels assisted the Coast Guard search, as well as individuals on ATVs along the shoreline of St. George Island. There are high cliffs along the shore of St. George, which provided volunteers a vantage point to look out to sea for evidence of the DESTINATION or debris from the vessel.
Search crews reported 30 mph winds, five to eight-foot waves, and air temperature of 20 degrees. The Bering Sea is known for bad weather this time of year. In such temperatures, ice can build up on a boat, reducing stability and buoyancy.
On Monday night, the search was called off after no trace was found of the 98-foot vessel, except for a life ring, buoys, tarps and a slick of oil on the water. The EPIRB device was found in the debris field. Crews searched 5,073 square nautical miles before calling off the search.
Under federal maritime law, the surviving families of crewmembers lost in a vessel sinking are likely entitled to compensation under the Jones Act and under a claim for unseaworthiness. Under federal maritime law, crewmembers are guaranteed a “warranty of seaworthiness,” which means that the vessel and its appliances must be fit for their intended purpose. Although few details are known about what caused the sinking, a vessel that sinks is generally not fit for its intended purpose and is thus unseaworthy.
Under the Jones Act surviving family members may bring claims for the death of a loved one resulting from negligence on the part of the vessel owner or other crewmembers. In the case of a vessel sinking, sometimes it can be difficult to determine what exactly led up to the sinking, and thus determine what role, if any, negligence played. For this reason, it is important to have competent representation capable of conducting a thorough and complete investigation.
In addition to the recovery of money damages for the loss of a loved one, bringing a Jones Act or unseaworthiness claim can have the added benefit of providing closure to family members. Often times, it is not initially clear what went wrong that caused a vessel to sink, and by bringing a claim, parties are entitled to fully investigate the sinking. Although the Coast Guard performs investigations, those investigations often leave many unanswered questions.
If you have a family member who has been lost at sea, we recommend that you consult with an experienced maritime attorney regarding your rights under maritime law. Our lawyers are experienced handling this kind of claim, and are prepared to speak with you about your case and answer your questions. We can be reached at (206) 624-8844.