Coast Guard charges owner of derelict fishing vessel Alaska Patriot

The Coast Guard has initiated a Class I Civil Penalty against the owner of the vessels Alaska Patriot and Alaska Pioneer after the Alaska Patriot was left adrift and derelict approximately 172 miles south of Dutch Harbor, Alaska, in December 2017.

Allegations against the vessels’ owner include: operating the Alaska Pioneer and Alaska Patriot beyond the boundary line without a valid load line; lack of a valid towing operator; and incorrect broadcast of Maritime Mobile Service Identity data.

As a result of these charges, the vessels’ owner could face fines and penalties in excess of $155,000.

“The broadcasting of incorrect Automatic Identification System (AIS) information is dangerous for all vessels,” said Lt. Michael Novak, a Coast Guard investigator. “The Alaska Pioneer incorrectly broadcasted that it was engaged in fishery and identified as an offshore supply vessel in Louisiana.”

The U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Center monitors vessel traffic to ensure the validity of AIS data broadcasts by vessels in U.S. waters. AIS data is very important to mariners and is routinely relied upon to help avoid collisions at sea and receive safety related messages. AIS also assists the Coast Guard in search and rescue operations.

“For these reasons, the integrity of AIS data transmitted by all vessels in U.S. waters is absolutely crucial,” Novak continued. “The broadcast of incorrect AIS data is a navigational hazard which could result in avoidable accidents, especially in congested waters, or extend the response time of assets during search and rescue operations.”

Merchant Mariner Credentials which are issued by the Coast Guard are vital to ensuring mariners are trained professionals in the maritime industry. The standards and credentialing process ensures the safety of personnel aboard and those transiting in nearby waters. Furthermore, loadlines are required for certain vessels on international voyages to ensure they have adequate stability and watertight integrity, characteristics that become even more important during towing operations.

“Towing in less than desirable weather and seas, coupled with unsatisfactory towing equipment, led to the eventual loss of this 170-foot vessel which posed a hazard to those around it,” Novak said. “These are the types of things which a reasonable and prudent mariner who holds an appropriate credential would have been likely to avoid.”

The crew of the 172-ft fishing vessel Alaska Pioneer was towing the 170-ft fishing vessel Alaska Patriot to Mexico for scrap when its tow line broke Dec. 3, 2017. The crew managed to re-establish its tow but, when the tow line broke a second time, the vessel’s owner abandoned the Alaska Patriot. The Coast Guard was notified by the crew of the Alaska Pioneer and maintained radio contact with the vessel as it continued to transit to Mexico. The crew of the Alaska Pioneer turned around to relocate the Alaska Patriot Dec. 4 but, after several days with no attempt by the vessel’s owner to re-establish control of the tow, a C-130 aircraft crew from Air Station Kodiak was launched to locate and survey the vessel while the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Sherman was granted permission to scuttle the Alaska Patriot as a hazard to navigation.

Coast Guard personnel from the CGC Sherman embarked the Alaska Patriot Dec. 20 and conducted an inspection of the vessel to identify pollution risks and any other potential hazards aboard the vessel. It was reported that fuel and hazardous materials had been removed from the vessel prior to its sale and attempted transit to Mexico. After confirming no persons or hazards remained aboard, the Coast Guard removed the Alaska Patriot’s EPIRB and sank the vessel.

“This case illustrates the importance of non-emergency towing operations being conducted only by licensed mariners with the proper endorsement,” said Lt. Cmdr. Graham Lanz, Coast Guard District 17 staff attorney. “Commercial towing is a complicated and hazardous business, even in calmer waters than the Gulf of Alaska in winter. The Alaska Pioneer’s towing arrangement failed twice in heavy seas and unforgiving weather. Reconnecting a tow in those conditions poses significant risks, demonstrating why it is essential to get it right the first time.”

“Vessels like the Alaska Patriot, left adrift by a severed towline, essentially become hazards to navigation, potentially causing collisions that could result in oil spills or, worse, loss of life,” Lanz continued. “The intentional scuttling of the vessel so far from shore, helped to ensure it wouldn’t endanger life or property at sea.”

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