Alaska Ranger Investigation Completes Testimony in Dutch Harbor

DUTCH HARBOR, Alaska – The Marine Board of Investigation into the Alaska Ranger began Thursday’s testimony with Charlie Medlicott. Liam LaRue from the NTSB led the questioning.

Medlicott has been a Coast Guard civilian commercial fishing vessel examiner since 1993. He enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1985 and served on active duty until 1993. Medlicott served as a commercial fishing vessel examiner in Anchorage and has spent the last couple of years at Marine Safety Detachment Unalaska.

As an examiner he primarily deals with the safety equipment aboard such as life rings, life rafts, survival suits, fire extinguishers, emergency drills, etc. Medlicott stated that he primarily deals with what the Coast Guard terms uninspected vessels. He stated that in his estimatition the regulations for uninspected vessels are lower than inspected vessels. The safety regulations are laid out in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Medlicott has dealt with vessels ranging from a 32-foot gill-netter to vessels like the Alaska Ranger. He said that participation by fishing vessels in the Coast Guard’s commercial fishing vessel safety program is voluntary. If a vessel is in full compliance they are issued a decal. That decal allows them to embark National Marine Fisheries Servers (NMFS) observers. Vessels over 125-feet in length are required to have 100 percent observer coverage when fishing. Vessels under 125-feet are required to have at least 30 percent observer coverage when fishing.

Medlicott conducted a commercial fishing vessel safety exam on the Alaska Ranger in mid-January. The exam took several hours. He said the vessel was in compliance and received their decal.

Medlicott did attend part of the yard period for the Alaska Ranger in Japan. He was there as a marine inspector trainee. He left before the vessel was taken out of the water.

Medlicott spoke about the Alternative Compliance Safety Agreement program (ACSA). “There are 60 or so vessels enrolled in this program,” said Medlicott. He said the program came about after the sinking of the Arctic Rose and the Galaxy. Head and gut vessels were found to be engaged in production of ancillary fish products that meet the federal definition of a processing vessel.

According to Medlicott, the need to produce these ancillary products, like separating out roe, was driven to meet changes in the fishery regulations. To be a processor a vessel is required to be classed by a class society, like the American Bureau of Shipping, and meet the load line regulations. It became evident to the commercial fishing vessel examiners that these vessels were unable to meet that standard so the Coast Guard developed ACSA to enable the vessels to meet an alternative and equally high safety standard and continue to fish.

NMFS records product codes when they are aboard a vessel. The Coast Guard uses the product codes that NMFS report to determine what vessels in the head and gut fleet were engaged in processing.

The process for inclusion in ACSA begins by an application and submitting to a preliminary inspection to verify the vessel complies with the “840 book” for ACSA. The 840 book was developed by key Coast Guard marine safety personnel in District 13 and District 17 as a guideline for conducting the ACSA inspections. “The intent was for these vessel’s to be in compliance by January of this year, but that is not the case,” said Medlicott.

During Medlicott’s initial ACSA inspection of the Alaska Ranger he noted that the vessel needed to upgrade their life rafts to allow them to be launched by one person, they needed to update their addendums to their stability book and add Jacob’s ladders or debarkation ladders.

Medlicott said the Alaska Ranger’s next step was to go to dry dock.  The owners sent the vessel to dry dock in Japan. Medlicott said the Fishing Company of Alaska is the only company he is aware of in the ACSA program that has done dry dock overseas.

Medlicott testified that the Alaska Ranger was enrolled in the ACSA program and actively engaged in coming into full compliance. He did say the Alaska Ranger had outstanding items on their worklist but that they had been making good progress.

“All of their lifesaving equipment, all the stuff I’m required to look at was in full compliance,” said Medlicott.

During the dry dock Medlicott and two qualified marine inspectors looked at ballast tanks, the life rafts, the stability book, firefighting equipment, watertight doors, factory high water alarms, sumps, they went down in the lockers that had previously been fuel tanks – standard dry dock items.

One ACSA requirement Medlicott cited was that any watertight doors on the main deck have to be quick acting. He stated Alpha Welding in Dutch Harbor, installed those doors when the vessel returned for dry dock.

Medlicott said it was envisioned that eventually a third party with Coast Guard oversight would manage the ACSA program but that the Coast Guard would initially institute the program.

In order to stay in compliance a vessel must submit to an annual exam. The crew must complete a thorough set of drills annually in front of a qualified fishing vessel examiner and go to dry dock regularly; twice in five years not to exceed three years between dry dock periods.

Medlicott did say that said that some administrative control issues have hindered implementation of the program.  For example, he said there is “ a lack of MISLE (the Coast Guard record keeping system) data on these vessels”, exemption letters not issued in a timely fashion and Coast Guard entities that are outlined in the ACSA agreement are not working together to manage the program.

Medlicott said that as of January 1, 2008 he only knew of three vessels that were in compliance. “This has turned into a much bigger deal than initially anticipated.” He said the amount of work and items identified on these vessels has never been done before.

Medlicott said that there have been no penalties for not coming into compliance by the January 1 date. He said if the vessels don’t come into compliance with ACSA the vessels will either have to be classed and load lined or stop making ancillary products and remain a head and gut vessel. Medlicott has said that has not happened.

“I think potentially it’s a great thing (ACSA),” said Medlicott. “I get nothing but positive feed back from the industry.

Following Medlicott the board interviewed Chief Warrant Officer Wesley Pannet of Marine Safety Detachment Unalaska. Pannet holds a laundry list of Coast Guard marine safety qualifications.

Pannet has been in Unalaska since July 2007. He deals primarily with port state control exams on foreign vessels arriving in Dutch Harbor.

Pannet has conducted inspections on the Alaska Ranger. He inspected steel work in the forward portion of the vessel over several days in January. He was verifying the quality of the welds.  Pannet said he saw more steel work that needed to be done and left that as a work list, not a deficiency.

The Marine Board of Inspection into the Alaska Ranger sinking will reconvene Saturday, April 5 in Anchorage at the Hilton Hotel Downtown at 8 a.m. They plan to speak to several Coast Guard personnel.

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