>Fifth District Asks Fisherman to Critically Examine Vessels and Operating Practices After Two Fishing Boats Are Lost Off New Jersey Coast

>On December 23, about 7 pm, the 38 foot fishing boat ALISHA MARIE sank about 36 nautical miles southeast Barnaget Light Inlet, NJ, with three crewmembers on board. Upon receiving the Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacon alert, the Coast Guard launched a helicopter that located and recovered one crewmember who had made it into a life raft. Two crewmembers remain missing and Coast Guard aircraft and vessels continue the search. Full press release.

The loss of the fishing vessel ALISHA MARIE comes only six weeks after the loss of the 49 foot fishing boat SEATRACTOR, which on November 11 sank about 20 miles southeast of Cape May, NJ, and resulted in the deaths of all three crewmembers. Full press release.

In 2009 and prior to the loss of the SEATRACTOR and ALISHA MARIE, there were 9 vessels and 8 fishermen lost in the Fifth Coast Guard District alone. Recgonizing that commercial fishing continues to result in a disproportionate number of commerical marine deaths and injuries, the Fifth District launched Operation Safe Catch on November 1, a marine safety pulse operation to improve commerical fishing vessel safety and prevent loss of life and property at sea. This operation runs through April 30, 2010, and has included local Coast Guard units providing free Stability and Safety at Sea Seminars to commercial fishermen.

Although the cause(s) of the SEATRACTOR and ALISHA MARIE’s sinking are not yet known, the Coast Guard has significant data and completed numerous studies on commercial fishing vessel safety and fishing vessel casaulties. For the vast majority of commercial fishing vessels, existing safety regulations do not address areas of critical importance such as hull condition, maintenance of critical machinery and equipment, vessel stability, watertight integrity.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as recently as October 20, 2009, wrote a letter to the Commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Thad Allen, addressing commercial fishing safety. In its letter, NTSB states that mandatory inspection is essential for improving safety in the fishing industry and reducing loss of life, and recommends the Coast Guard seek legislative authority to require that all commerical fishing vessels be inspected and certificated by the Coast Guard to ensure that the vessels provide an appropriate level of safety to those on board.

The Coast Guard Authorization Act for 2010 has been submitted to the House of Representatives as HR. 3619 and to the Senate as S. 1194. The House version includes numerous provisions related to commercial fishing vessel safety and the Coast Guard’s legislative authority. The Senate version does not include any such provisions. The two versions will have to be reconciled during joint conferences.

In order to improve the seaworthiness of fishing vessels, the Coast Guard strongly encourages fishermen to critically examine their operating and engineering practicies, their understanding of watertight integrity and stability issues, and the material condition of their vessels and equipment. In addition, the Coast Guard strongly encourages commercial fishermen to schedule a courtesy dockside examination with their local Coast Guard Sector. Dockside exams are thorough safety checks of the vessel by qualified examiners, are free of charge and there is no penatly and/or fault to the owner/operator for safety discrepancies discovered during the dockside exam.

Fish Safe!