Coast Guard Rescues Fisherman, Ensures Safety Throughout 2007 Tanner Crab Fleet

JUNEAU, Alaska – When a fisherman fell from the fishing vessel Kelcy Michelle into the frigid waters of Icy Strait, help was literally seconds away. Crewmembers from Coast Guard Cutter Liberty, already maneuvering toward the fishing vessel in a small-boat for a boarding, plucked the man from the 34 degree water in only one minute. In that short time, the fisherman had begun to suffer from hypothermia, which can impair a person’s ability to swim. Complicating the fisherman’s predicament, he was not wearing a life jacket or survival suit.

The Liberty was present as part of the Coast Guard’s mission to ensure the safety of fishermen participating in Southeast Alaska’s 2007 tanner crab opener, which began on February 10th. Aggressive enforcement of federal fishing vessel safety regulations helped protect a fleet of approximately sixty vessels. The combination of winter weather conditions and fishing boats heavily loaded with pots make this a potentially risky fishery. As a result of the Coast Guard’s proactive approach to the enforcement of safety regulation no injuries or deaths were reported this year.

The Coast Guard’s efforts to ensure safety began the week before the opener in the harbors of Petersburg, Juneau and Hoonah. The Coast Guard visited fifty-five vessels that had signed up for voluntary dockside exams. While the boats were at the dock preparing for the opener, the Coast Guard checked a variety of safety items, such as the proper installation of liferafts and the condition of survival suits. Upon completion of each successful exam, the Coast Guard issued a decal to indicate that the vessel met all federal safety requirements. In all, forty-seven vessels earned decals.

During the opener, teams from Coast Guard Station Juneau, Coast Guard Station Ketchikan, and the CGC Liberty spread out between Sumner Strait and Lynn Canal to conduct boardings at sea. They targeted fishing vessels that did not display recently issued decals. Of the forty-three vessels boarded, three were escorted back to port because of serious safety violations.

Preventative measures such as dockside exams and boardings at sea play a key role in fulfilling the Coast Guard’s mission to protect life at sea, reflected in the Coast Guard District Seventeen’s vision of “Nobody Dies.” The Coast Guard strongly encourages commercial fishermen to participate in the voluntary dockside exam program. Fishermen who take the time to get a decal before going fishing benefit in two ways: they leave the dock knowing that their safety equipment is in good order, and they are less likely to have to interrupt their work while at sea to accommodate lengthy Coast Guard boardings. To schedule a dockside exam, fishermen may call Sector Juneau’s Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Coordinator, Larry Snyder, at 907-463-2448.

Cutter Liberty crewman prepare to board a crab boat

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