Poor maintenance and inadequate regulatory oversight sank the 58 metre, 1,577 gross tonne, fish-processing vessel Alaska Ranger, cost five lives and led to the biggest rescue effort in US Coastguard history says the newly released US Coast Guard investigation board report. Some 37 recommendations have been made.
One reason for the loss is that there is no single accepted definition of a ‘fish processing vessel’, which enables avoidance by the fishing industry of meeting safety standards.
Alaska Ranger, by the Seattle-based, Arkansas registered Fishing Company of Alaska. sank more than 200 kilometres west of Dutch Harbor, Alaska on 23 March 2008. Of the 47 people aboard, 42 were rescued, four deceased crewmembers were recovered and one remains missing and is presumed dead. The Coast Guard rescued 20 of the Alaska Ranger’s crew through multiple hoists conducted by HH-60 and HH-65 helicopters, with survivors being transported to and cared for aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Munro. The fishing vessel Alaska Warrior rescued 22 survivors from two liferafts and recovered three deceased crew members from the frigid water. The fourth deceased crewmember was recovered by the Coast Guard.
Investigators determined that the cause of the sinking was flooding thatprobably started in the rudder room, but rapidly progressed to the engine room and other spaces due to a lack of watertight integrity.
While the exact source of the uncontrolled flooding remains unknown, analysis indicates the most likely source was related to the vessel’s poor material condition and may have been related to the Kort nozzle struts. The struts support the nozzles shrouding the propellers at the stern of the vessel and are believed to have experienced excessive stresses where they were attached to the vessel’s hull.
Says the report: “The underlying conditions that led to the loss of the Alaska Ranger were not unique to this vessel. Nor were they new… Changes must be pursued immediately… before additional lives are lost…”
Current standards of fish processing vessels are not commensurate with risk. Laws, regulations policy have failed to protect seafarers.
Says the US Coastguard: “According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, from 1994 to 2004, 641 commercial fishermen died while fishing in the United States. Vessel sinkings resulted in more than half of all fatalities. While work-related fatalities for commercial fishermen in Alaska are still very high, they have decreased by 42 percent since the early 1990s. This success is due in part to the Coast Guard implementing new safety requirements in the early 1990s”.
At the time of the casualty, the Fishing Company of Alaska had enrolled the Alaska Ranger into the US Coast Guard’s Alternate Compliance Safety Agreement Program, commonly referred to as ACSA. However, ACSA had not yet been effectively implemented, and the Alaska Ranger, with several outstanding deficiencies, was not in compliance with all ACSA requirements.
Other issues affected the survivability of the crew of Alaska Ranger. MAC readesr will be familiar with the tendency of controllable pitch propellers to fail-to-unsafe when hydraulic pressure fails and go astern. In this case the vessel’s rafts were dragged from the bow, forcing the crew to jump into the O celsius water.
The remote shutdown on Alaska Ranger’s bridge was not functioning. The engine room was already flooded.
Survival suits, although available in different sizes were not individually assigned. It was difficult to secure muster sheets because of the gloves on the survival suits. The must sheets were not up to date and did not reflect the crew board the vessel and it was down the to factory leaders to remember who was on board.
The Report of Investigation may be downloaded from the U.S. Coast Guard’s Office of Investigations and Analysis Web site at http://homeport.uscg.mil. Click on Investigations, then Marine Casualty Reports.