Fishing Vessel Operator Cited for Negligence on Columbia River

The Coast Guard on Dec. 1 said that it has issued a violation notice to the owner and master aboard a 48-foot commercial fishing vessel for negligence while operating in conditions of restricted visibility and a failure to maintain a proper lookout in the Columbia River navigation channel.

The commercial fishing vessel, the name of which was not released by the USCG,  was operating outbound on the Oregon side of the Columbia River navigation channel as the 587-foot motor vessel Grand Race, a roll-on/roll-off cargo ship, was transiting inbound, in the vicinity of the navigation channel’s Buoy No. 8.

The commercial fishing vessel, without providing notice or sound signal to the inbound Grand Race, adjusted course to move to the Washington side of the channel; and, in doing so, cut across the bow of the Grand Race, creating serious risk of collision, according to the USCG, which was a violation of Navigation Rule 9, pertaining to the safe and proper navigation of channels and fairways.

Navigation Rule 9 states that vessels proceeding along a navigation channel shall keep as near to the outer limit of the channel which lies on the vessels starboard side and which also prohibits vessels from crossing a navigation channel if such crossing impedes the passage of a vessel which can safely navigate only within the channel.

“Upon determining the risk of collision, the pilot aboard the Grand Race repeatedly hailed the commercial fishing vessel on VHF-FM radio channels 13 and 16 and sounded the danger signal with no response from the commercial fishing vessel,” the USCG said in a statement regarding the incident. “This is an evident violation of Navigation Rule 5, pertaining to the master’s responsibility to maintain a proper look-out by sight, hearing and all available means.”

Navigation Rule 5 states that every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by “all available means,” which includes available instruments and equipment.

As a final measure to avoid collision, according to Coast Guard officials, the pilot aboard Grand Race hailed the harbor pilot vessel Astoria for assistance; the Astoria was only able to establish communication and warn the commercial fishing vessel of the impending danger by shining a spotlight directly on the vessel, resulting in the commercial fishing vessel altering course and avoiding collision.

“In addition to the Dungeness crab fishery being the most valuable single-species fishery off the coasts of Oregon and Washington, it is also the most dangerous.” said Lt. Carl Eschler, chief of the investigations division at Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Portland.

“Fishermen haven’t even started pulling pots and retrieving their catch, and we have already had a near miss that could have resulted in multiple casualties,” he said. “No matter how long you have been fishing, please don’t get complacent. Maintain a proper lookout, monitor channel 16, and notify the Coast Guard as required prior to crossing a hazardous bar.”

“The Coast Guard is here to assist, and given the choice, would much rather provide information to a vessel operator unfamiliar with local bar conditions or provide an escort across a hazardous bar then respond to a vessel in distress,” he continued. “The issuance of a civil penalty is one way for the Coast Guard to compel compliance and help to save lives.”

The USCG declined to the penalty the fishing vessel faced in the incident, but regulations state that punishment for a first offense of this nature—in which a commercial vessel operating in a negligent manner that endangers life, limb, or property—range from $5,000 to $35,486.