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                        The M/V GOLDEN  ALASKA (picture provided by U.S. Coast Guard)

The U.S. Coast Guard medevaced an injured seaman from the M/V GOLDEN ALASKA near Cold Bay, Alaska on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. The vessel requested the medevac after the mariner lost consciousness and was thereafter in an altered mental state.   The cause of the mariner’s loss of consciousness is unknown.

After receiving the call, Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak deployed an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter stationed in Cold Bay and hoisted the injured crewmember from the GOLDEN ALASKA.  The helicopter transported the crewmember to shore where he was then transferred into the care of local emergency medical personnel, most likely in Cold Bay.  The EMS team determined that the injured seaman required a higher level of care than they could provide and arranged transport for further care in Anchorage.

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When an injury occurs at sea, seamen, fishermen, and others injured on vessels often need help protecting their rights, obtaining medical care, and dealing with vessel employers or owners who may not be acting in the injured person’s interest.  This is where a maritime lawyer can assist and ensure that those injured at sea receive the help they need and fair compensation for their injuries.  Maritime attorneys have unique experience litigating maintenance and cure, seaman injury claims under the Jones Act, fishing boat injuries, cases under the Death on the High Seas Act, recreational boating accidents, and other  issues of maritime law that are foreign to many personal injury attorneys.

Below are a few of the laws and claims that maritime lawyers address on a regular basis.  Of note, the first three types of claims – maintenance & cure, Jones Act negligence, and unseaworthiness – only apply to injured individuals who qualify as “seamen” under maritime law.  In general, a seaman is a crewmember on a vessel in navigation who spends a significant amount of time contributing to the vessel’s work and operations (a topic for a separate post).  Maritime law also protects non-seamen, as discussed below.

Maintenance & Cure

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Photo provided by U.S. Coast Guard

Four people were injured when a small charter plane crashed during an emergency landing at the remote Dry Bay airstrip after reporting an unknown incident during flight.  The crash, which occurred about 30 miles southeast of Yakutat, was first reported to the Alaska State Troopers at about 2:30 pm local time on Tuesday, May 25.  The U.S. Coast Guard also reported that it picked up an emergency transmitter from the plane at about 3:15 pm.

The Yakutat Police Department and Coast Guard both activated emergency response operations.  A Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter was first on scene to medevac two individuals with critical back injuries to Yakutat.  The Yakutat Police medevaced a third person with serious breathing issues while the fourth person was transported to Yakutat by a good Samaritan.  The Coast Guard then flew the three most seriously injured individuals to Anchorage on an HC-130 Hercules for further treatment.  The identity of the pilot and passengers has not been released.  Fortunately, reports indicate that none of the injuries are life-threatening.

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(photograph courtesy of the United States Coast Guard)

Early Sunday morning, the Coast Guard called off the search for the skipper of the WHITE SWAN III, a 32-foot fishing vessel that sank about 35 miles offshore of Florence, Oregon.  One other crewmember was rescued by the Coast Guard but was unresponsive and later pronounced dead.  The cause of the sinking remains under investigation.

The Coast Guard first received a distress call from the vessel shortly after midnight on Saturday, March 26.  The WHITE SWAN’s master reported that the vessel was taking on water and sinking in the northern section of the Heceta Banks fishery.  Upon receiving the mayday call, the Coast Guard activated a rescue operation and deployed a 47-foot motor lifeboat crew from Coast Guard Station Siuslaw River.  Several Coast Guard aircraft, additional motor lifeboat crews, and the Coast Guard Cutter Orcas joined the search shortly thereafter.

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A processor onboard the vessel AMERICA’S FINEST owned by Fisherman’s Finest Inc. suffered a serious foot injury while fishing near St. George Island in the Aleutian Islands west of Alaska.  The processor’s injury was severe enough that the vessel requested a helicopter medical evacuation from the U.S. Coast Guard at 0230 on Thursday, March 17, 2022.

After initiating the medevac, AMERICA’S FINEST headed toward Dutch Harbor, Alaska, where the Coast Guard planned to take the processor after retrieving him from the vessel.  The Coast Guard deployed an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from the Cutter Alex Haley and simultaneously launched an HC-130 Hercules airplane from Air Station Kodiak to provide further support and observation.

Upon arriving at the vessel, the Dolphin helicopter lowered a rescue swimmer and hoisted the processor from AMERICA’S FINEST shortly before 1300 on March 17.  Beyond the normal challenges of conducting aerial rescues at sea, the Coast Guard crew also had to contend with severe weather conditions including 15-foot seas, freezing ocean spray, and 30 mph winds occasionally gusting to 40 mph.  The USCG’s ability to complete the rescue under such adverse conditions exemplifies the extreme skill and unique talents of the Coast Guard servicemen.

On Sunday, February 21, 2021, an injured fisherman required medical evacuation from the Alaska Ocean. The 45 year old crewman suffered a crushed arm. No details about the injury are currently available. The Alaska Ocean is the largest catcher processor in the Bering Sea carrying a crew of 135 seamen.

When injured, deckhands and fish processors aboard factory trawlers are entitled to benefits under Federal Maritime Law.  The vessel must pay for all reasonable and necessary medical treatment and provide a daily living allowance while the crewman is recovering from his/her injuries.

The Jones Act provides compensation for crewman who are injured as a result of negligence and unseaworthiness.  Compensation under the Jones Act includes compensation for pain and suffering, disability, and past and future wage loss.  Crewmen injured by even slight negligence are entitled to recover under the Jones Act.

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