Operation Safe Crab 2007/2008

SEATTLE – The Coast Guard continues its initiative to reduce the number of fisherman’s lives lost at sea in the Dungeness crab fishery throughout the Pacific Northwest and Northern California.

The Dungeness crab season opened Dec. 1, and has had three major incidents within the first few weeks of its opening.

The first incident occurred Dec. 5, near Pillar Point, Calif., when two fishermen aboard the fishing vessel Good Guys were reported missing by another vessel in the area. A small amount of debris was found in the area, including the vessels emergency beacon which had broadcasted an electronic signal.

The Coast Guard conducted eight separate searches by both aircraft and motor lifeboat. The search was suspended after the survivability, which was based on the air and water temperatures, had passed.

The second incident occurred on Dec. 7, when a crab fisherman aboard the vessel Zora Belle fell overboard into 50 degree water. The fisherman was not wearing a lifejacket, and was believed to be unconscious at the time of the fall.

The search was suspended after rescuers from Station Siuslaw River and Air Station North Bend searched a 100 square mile area for over eight hours. Expected survivability based upon sea and weather conditions on that day, without a lifejacket on, were approximately four and a half hours.

“It’s highly recommended for fishermen to wear a personal flotation device Type V while working,” said Dan Hardin, Commercial Fishing Vessel and Safety Coordinator of the Thirteenth Coast Guard District.

Even though they don’t replace the Type 1 flotation devices, added Hardin, they will keep fishermen who fall overboard afloat, which will give them a better chance of being rescued. The Type V flotation devices are less restrictive, and can be easily used while working aboard a fishing vessel.

The third incident occurred on Dec. 10, after the fishing vessel Sunway caught fire in its engine room 10 miles off Tillamook, Ore.

The fishermen aboard the Sunway were able to call for help. Rescuers from Coast Guard Air Station Astoria and Station Tillamook Bay responded immediately to the scene, rescuing all three fishermen before the entire vessel became engulfed in flames.

The Dungeness crab season started Dec. 1, and will last until July. Most Dungeness crabs are caught within the first eight weeks of the season.

Before the start of the season, Coast Guard vessel safety examiners were dispatched throughout the Pacific Northwest to conduct safety compliance checks and voluntary dockside examinations at primary marinas Dungeness crab fishermen operate from.

“Checks in previous years,” said Hardin. “Found that between one-quarter and one-third of Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons and life-rafts are installed improperly with most deficiencies being easily corrected on-the-spot.”

The primary objective of Operation Safe Crab is to ensure the safety of all vessels and crews involved with the Dungeness crab season. To accomplish these goals, the Coast Guard will:

  • Reach as many Fishing Vessel operators in the crab fishery as possible to increase awareness of safety and stability considerations prior to the season opener.
  • Ensure Fishing Vessels have adequate safety gear through Dockside Exams, Safety Checks, and Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety (CFVS) information packages.
  • Inform Fishing Vessel operators to expect at-sea Coast Guard presence to monitor vessels departing the harbors and that vessels appearing overloaded and/or lacking safety gear thus creating Especially Hazardous Conditions (EHCs) may have their voyage terminated and required to return to port until unsafe conditions are corrected.

The Coast Guard has safety examiners available for free dockside examinations throughout the year. Any questions regarding “Operation Safe Crab,” or availability of voluntary dockside exams should be directed to Dan Hardin, Thirteenth Coast Guard District Fishing Vessel Safety Coordinator, at (206) 220-7226, or Daniel.E.Hardin@uscg.mil.

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