Oct 222009

When Captain Doug Pine talks of floggings, mutiny and physical fear it’s not a tale of past centuries, but of today. Indeed it’s probably going on as you read this post. And it’s not happening aboard a flag of convenience vessel – the 187 LOA Majestic Blue, of which he was master until 18 October this year, proudly waves the flag of the United States of America at her stern.

We know that because the company itself boasts “Our companies are 100% owned by United States citize (sic) and vessel flies proudly the flag of the United States of America!”. It is unlikely that the United States of America will be proud of the vessel, owned by Majestic Blue Fisheries LLC, which flies its flag.

Until 2009 the vessel,a purse seiner working Western and Central Pacific Ocean tuna fishery along with a sister ship, Pacific Breeze, was registered in South Korea then moved to the US flag. She carried a crew of 23 with, originally a Korean Captain and chief officer, with most of the rest of the crew being unlicensed seafarers from Indonesia and the Philippines. When the ship was registered in the US, the Korean captain became the fishmaster and Captain Pine joined as Captain. It was an uncomfortable relationship.

Alerted by Steve Gordon of maritime law firm Gordon & Elias, MAC spoke with Doug Pine in Tawara, Kiribati, by cellphone. “As a human being it was appalling to witness, on an American ship, seafarers being beaten,” says Pine. He recalls the first beating he witnessed: “I was sitting in my chair on the navigation bridge with a pleasant young Indonesian, the equivalent of a third officer, near me. Suddenly, the chief engineer came in and punched him with his fist, with full force, then kicked him with full force between the buttocks. Sometime the chief engineer would use a bamboo stick, hitting him about the shoulders, neck and head”.

Pine posted standing orders around the vessel prohibiting further beatings. Some of the crew quietly thanked him, but he believes it may still have continued out of sight. “I think they came to accept the beatings,” he says.

Pine found it difficult to exercise his authority almost from the moment he first boarded the vessel: “The first day I was aboard I asked for the crew list It was ordered by rank. I was Number Two, the fishmaster was number 1. The second officer refused a direct order to change it. The Korean officers refused to obey any routine command activity.”

In fact, Pine was supposed to simply be a ‘paper captain’ to meet the requirements of the US flag and to accept the authority of the fishmaster, the former captain. Pine was unable to manoeuver the vessel or use the navigation equipment on the bridge.

He believes that there was a conspiracy between the ship’s officers and the owners to commit mutiny.

The Korean officers refused to comply with MARPOL regulations, claims Pine. A vessel waste management plan was posted throughout the ship but ignored, even though the vessel had an adequate incinerator ad oily-water separator. “I brought it up at the monthly safety meetings but was ignored,”says Pine, who has video and photographic evidence that the Korean officers ‘intentionally and wilfully” disposed of plastics wastes and oil wastes at sea: ”They didn’t want to waste fuel by using the incinerator”, he says.

When Pine attempted to organise the vessel to arrive in Tarawa, Kiribati for and inspection, the fishmaster ignored him.

When Pine went to the bridge to check the ship’s position the fishmaster began screaming at him, pounding the chart table with his fist and, when the chief officer came onto the bridge pointing at Captain Pine in a way that made him fear physical violence. Pine managed to smuggle a the ship’s satellite phone off the bridge, returned to his cabin and telephoned his wife who recorded a message asking for assistance to be passed on to the US Coast Guard.

After a while in his cabin things quietened down and he was able to return to the bridge and send a couple of emails then received a message from the Majestic Blue’s sister ship, Pacific Breeze that he had a message from the coast guard. Later he received a VHF communication from the Coast Guard asking him to attend a ‘pre-inspection meeting’.

“It was a sort of coded message”, says Pine. He returned to his cabin, collected his belongings and left the ship at Tawara by pilot boat on the morning of 18 October.

Since then he has stayed in Tarawa being interviewed by the US Coast Guard, accompanied by his wife.

For Captain Doug Pine the nightmare is over, for the remaining crew of Majestic Blue it will continue, at least for the time being.

And Majestic Blue Fisheries of Guam is looking for an American captain to board its all American-owned purse seiner flying that all-American flag.

(With thanks to maritime lawyer Steve Gordon)


  12 Responses to “Flogging and Mutiny in the 21st Century, Proudly Waving The Stars and Stripes”

  1. A correction: It was the Chief Engineer who flogged the Assistant Officer. I never witnessed the Chief Officer flog any member of my crew.


  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by AnotherCGBlog: Just when you thought we’d left the 18th century, you find out flogging still happens on US-flagged merchant vessels: http://ztaxz.xrt.me

  3. Wow. Talk about being put in a bad situation with little or no control. Glad you got out safe.

    By the way, It’s Tarawa, not Tawara.

  4. You are dealing with “cultural” issues here… be interesting to see what comes out of it.

  5. Hi Jason! Now two of the Raines’s have set foot on this hunk of coral.

  6. Is this the same Capt Doug Pine from Maui Circa 1994-1996?

    Curious old friend.

  7. I also toyed with being a paper captain some 12-15 years ago. It is so crystel clear even then that I had been only thinking of the “big money” and not of the ramifications of the situation should this foreign captain do some thing stupid and I would be sitting across from that USCG investigator saying “so captain tell us how you allowed this to happen, while you slide you license to this end of the table”.I commend you on your resolve. Cudos capt. Pine for your corage

  8. I once boarded a vessel which allowed the “scull and crossbones” to be flown. I ask the chief mate if while I was o/b his crew could refrane from flying this flag as i concidered it offensive.
    We were able to successfully do this and that no one was the wiser. Unfortunately not all pirates wear eye shadow or are in fact Johnny Depp, which is another subject.

  9. Might be worth bearing in mind that the UK P&I club investigators look at at least one murder a year, that mutinies aboard vessels operating out of Taiwan, for example, have been known, that seafarers abused aboard ship aboard have been know to have nervous breakdowns and kill ships’ officers, and its not unknown for abusive officers to magical fall overboard without being noticed and ‘lost at sea’.

  10. Hey guys, There’s plenty of work on foreign flag ships in US waters that have all American crews, and American company ploicies in place to prevent those abuses and breaking IMO regs. Not fishing. Another rescource, oil. And the capt isn’t “paper”. We quit doing that in the 90’s in Alaska when a 200 mile limit was set and the Norwegian vessel Owners hired Americans. Can’t beleive the Portugese gave up the tuna to Koreans.

  11. I’m so glad Doug made it off the ship safely! Capt. Pine is a wonderful person and made a wonderful cosmic captain for the film Project London. Score one for the good guys.

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