Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Vessel owner criticized in Alaska Ranger report

Don McManman, editor of Pacific Fishing magazine, kindly sent this report on today's release of the U.S. Coast Guard investigation into the Alaska Ranger tragedy.

Nearly three years after the deadly sinking, the U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday had brutal words for owners of the F/V Alaska Ranger.

The Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation determined the vessel sank in the Bering Sea because of the "poor material condition of the vessel," said Capt. John P. Nadeau, chairman of the board, in answer to a question from the press.

The sinking — and five deaths — "could have been prevented," Nadeau said during a Seattle news conference.

The Alaska Ranger sank in the early hours of Easter morning on March 23, 2008. The head-and-gut catcher-processor had 47 workers on board. More would have died if not for "exceptional" efforts by the Alaska Warrior, a sister ship also owned by Fishing Company of Alaska, and Coast Guard helicopter and cutter crews, Nadeau said.

Immediately after the sinking, the Coast Guard named a Marine Board of Investigation, which held hearings in Dutch Harbor, Anchorage, Seattle and Boston. During the hearings, the panel promised a full report by the end of 2008.

When asked about the delay, Nadeau said the investigation had been very complex. In addition, the original board chairman had retired in 2009.

The board's report also focused on the alternative compliance program initiated after the F/V Galaxy burned on the Bering Sea in 2002. Safety standards on vessels such as the Galaxy and Alaska Ranger were not fully addressed by federal regulations. To address such lapses, the Coast Guard and vessel owners agreed to a set of standards outside the normal government regulatory process.

The alternative compliance program did not function well in its early months, Nadeau said. It was understaffed and underfunded, he said. Even so, the Alaska Ranger failed the minimal standards enforced in early 2008, Nadeau said.

The vessel had emerged from a major refit in a Japanese shipyard only three months before it sank. But structural deficiencies aboard the Ranger "had not been addressed," said Nadeau.

The Coast Guard confirmed that flooding began in aft compartments and, while it's impossible to prove, the initial catastrophic hull failure likely was caused by weakened struts designed to support the Ranger's Kort nozzle, Nadeau said.

The vessel flooded from aft and, shortly before 4:30 a.m., rolled and sank.

After the Ranger sank, the Coast Guard was faced with a decision of whether to "ditch" the alternative compliance program, Nadeau said. But the Coast Guard commandant chose to "reinvest" in the program, tripling the number of inspectors and improving guidance, Nadeau said.

Such alternative compliance programs are central to new safety regulations imbedded in the Coast Guard authorization bill passed by Congress last fall.

To read the complete 192-page report on the sinking of the Alaska Ranger, click here.

No comments: