In July of 2021, the fishing vessel Tenacious grounded and eventually sank in the waters surrounding Whittier, Alaska. Recent reports from the National Transportation Safety Board stated that one of the reasons for the unfortunate turn of events was the decision of the seiner’s captain to proceed with the nocturnal journey to Prince William Sound despite the crew’s lack of sufficient rest in the days prior.
The 50.5 foot steiner had left Whittier sometime between 1:00 a.m. and 1:30 a.m., expecting to make it to the fishing grounds at Perry Passage in Prince William Sound well before 6:00 a.m. the following morning, which was the opening of the salmon season. The trip should have lasted only about 3.5 hours. However, it went off course in Wells Passage and hit the rocks of Cochrane Bay, eventually causing the boat to sink.
All crew members on board the Tenacious were able to abandon the ship before it sank and were rescued by another rescue vessel that responded to the distress calls sent by the boat’s owner and captain. The incident resulted in a loss of approximately $660,000, which includes the value of the vessel and the gear. The 2,000 gallons of diesel that were on board were also never recovered.
What Caused the Tenacious to Stray Off Course?
After months of thorough investigation, the NTSB has identified the most likely cause of the events leading to the grounding and sinking of the Tenacious on that fateful night. According to the captain, he had fallen asleep while keeping watch in the wheelhouse. He had previously told his crew to get some rest as all of them have had very little sleep in the previous 48 hours.
The NTSB also noted that the Tenacious was equipped with chart plotter and bridge watch alarms but these were not activated at the time of the incident. Otherwise, these alarms would likely have woken up the captain and made him aware of the imminent peril.
Was the Tenacious Unseaworthy Because of Crew Fatigue?
We have often talked about how a vessel’s unseaworthiness can stem from a variety of factors, not the least of which is crew fatigue. This situation, therefore, begs the question, was the Tenacious unseaworthy if its crew members were all lacking in sufficient rest before setting out for sea? But why was the crew so tired in the first place?
As it turns out, there were maintenance concerns with the 20-foot skiff that the Tenacious used for seine deployment, which was vital for catching pink salmon. On July 22 and well into July 23, the crew tried to take care of these issues but the repairs were unsuccessful. Three of the crew members then went to Seward to borrow another skiff, and the round trip took 4 hours. By then, they were quite tired but they still needed to make some minor repairs to make the borrowed skiff perfect for the fishing trip.
By the time the Tenacious left for Perry Passage, the crew was very tired and that was when the captain decided to let them rest while he took command of the fishing vessel.
How Did the Tenacious Crew Handle the Situation?
At 3:26 a.m. of July 24, the owner of the Tenacious, who was aboard the fishing vessel as part of the crew on that night, placed a distress call on VHF Channel 16 when he woke up to find out that the bunkroom was quickly becoming flooded. After making the call, the owner ordered the crew to abandon ship and to quickly board the skiff, and went back to the wheelhouse to retrieve the survival suits for the crew.
The impact also woke the captain, who went to the vessel’s engine room where he saw water coming in through holes in the forward bulkhead. He attempted to dewater the area by lining up a bilge pump but there was live electricity in the area being flooded so he had to get out immediately. The captain went back to the wheelhouse and placed another distress call before boarding the skiff where the crew and the owner were waiting.
Another fishing vessel, the Grand Pa, had heard the distress calls and told the Coast Guard at 3:36 am that the 5 crew members of the Tenacious had all made it safely onto the skiff.
During his call, the captain of the Tenacious had also informed the Coast Guard that the skiff had sufficient fuel to make it to Whittier, which had been their intention. However, the Coast Guard gave them clear instructions to stay in the vicinity and a rescue team will soon be in the area.
Who Is Liable for the Sinking of the Tenacious?
The captain of the Tenacious has willingly accepted liability for everything that had happened. According to him, he knew that both he and his crew were tired but he didn’t want to risk losing out on a good catch during the opener, hence his decision to push through with the trip despite their collective fatigue.
The captain and the crew members had undergone drug and alcohol tests as part of the investigation after the incident, and these tests all came out negative.
During their investigations, the NTSB had also identified a few other factors that have contributed to the incident. There were two charting systems in the wheelhouse of the Tenacious with saved tracks of previous trips. The captain did not turn them on because he is very familiar with the route and did not need guidance. If the systems had been on, they would have sounded an alarm when the boat went off course, alerting the captain.
There was also a bridge watch alarm that might have warned the captain when the vessel was about to ground. However, this alarm was also not activated since the activation key had been lost some time ago.
What Can a Maritime Accident Lawyer Do to Help?
What happened to the Tenacious was nobody’s intention but someone must be held liable for the damages and injuries. In this case, the captain admits that the decision was his own and seems ready to face the consequences of his error of judgment. However, there are also other contributing factors that might not necessarily be the fault of the captain.
If he hires a good commercial fishing accident lawyer, there is a very good chance of minimal charges. Otherwise, he might be slapped with steep penalties and have to pay for all the damage to the vessel as well as the injuries of the crew members.
If you are ever involved in a seafaring accident or know someone who is, it is best to consult with a reliable legal professional who can defend you and protect your rights. Here at O’Bryan Law, we have expert maritime lawyers who can give you all the advice and representation you need. Give us a call for a free consultation.