Fishing vessel owners agree on compensation for victims of sinking

The owners of crabbing vessel Scandies Rose (ex 7933529) were reported to have reached a settlement of more than $9m with two surviving crew members and the families of four of the five men who died when the vessel sank off Alaska on December 31st 2019.

Five commercial fishermen died while two crewmen survived after taking refuge in a lifeboat. They were rescued by a USCG helicopter (IMN January 8th 2020)

The 40-metre Scandies Rose issued a mayday call at about 22:00 on Tuesday December 31st last year. Its last known location was about 170 miles southwest of Kodiak.

The agreement was confirmed by Michael Barcott, an attorney representing the Washington and Alaska owners, who said the settlement would be paid for out of insurance. Jerry Markham, an attorney for the families of three of the deceased, also confirmed the settlement.

A document disclosing the settlement was filed on November 1st in the US District Court in Tacoma, Washington State.

The agreement will be subject to review in state Superior Court. Markham said that the manner and proportion in which the compensation will be divided up among survivors and families of the deceased was under discussion.

The case had been scheduled to reach court in spring next year in a US District Court.

A US Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation was launched earlier this year, and  public hearings were expected to be held in the Seattle area, beginning February 22nd and expected to continue for a couple of weeks. The National Transportation Safety Board is participating.

One of the five crew who died was Kodiak, Alaska-based captain Gary Cobban Jr, 60, who was a part owner of the vessel and whose family will receive other insurance money. Barcott said that the captain was not part of the settlement:

The two survivors of the sinking of the Scandies Rose – Dean Gribble Jr and Jon Lawler, of Anchorage — reported a severe list that imperilled the vessel. They scrambled to the wheelhouse, donned survival suits and prepared to abandon the rapidly sinking vessel sometime around 22:00 on December 31st. They said a big wave knocked them off the ship. Both made it to a life raft. However, their survival suits and the raft had no locator beacons.

A USCG helicopter found them early on New Year’s Day.

The owners maintained in court documents that they had exercised “due diligence” to make the vessel seaworthy and fit for service, and that therefore they bore no fault or negligence. That would have limited their liability to the value of the sunken vessel, which was essentially zero.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys alleged that the Scandies Rose was not seaworthy when it left Kodiak, and that a reasonable and prudent owner would have known of these risks. The plaintiff’s filings also cited the weather forecast that called for serious icing conditions. They said the owners were aware of that prediction, which would have increased the hazards of carrying a load of crab pots to the Bering Sea.

The USCG said that its investigation was exploring a range of issues that could have contributed to the sinking, including the icing conditions’ impact on vessel stability and mechanical or other problems the vessel may have experienced.

The board will examine what pressures the crew were under due to fishing regulations. A late arrival to the fishing grounds can mean fewer days to catch cod.

The owners had maintained that the Scandies Rose was going to fish briefly during the cod window, which meant that there was no urgency to get to the Bering Sea. Gribble maintained that the skipper was behind schedule, and anxious to start the cod fishing.

The investigation will also look at crew training, and how the lifesaving equipment performed.

1979-built, USA-flagged, 105 gt Scandies Rose is owned and managed by Scandies Rose Fishing of Bremerton, Washington State, USA.