Kreindler Follows Investigation of Portland Fishing Boat Tragedy

Yaquina Bay Bar Map Fishing Boat

On January 8, 2019, the Mary B II, a 42-foot wooden commercial fishing boat, capsized while crossing the Yaquina Bay Bar in Newport, Oregon. The three-man fishing crew were killed. They were returning to port from 3 days of crabbing when the craft capsized in the Pacific Ocean not far from the shore. Two of the crew, including the ship’s captain had recently moved to Oregon from Ocean County, NJ and the third man was from Toledo, Oregon. The two New Jersey fishermen had years of experience off the coast of Jersey and with the help of the experienced local fisherman, set out at the onset of Dungeness crab season.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported that the crew of the Mary B II had requested an escort across the Yaquina Bay Bar and that a Coast Guard boat crew from the Yaquina Bay Station aboard the 52-foot Motor Life Boat Victory headed out to meet the fishing boat. At 10:08pm, cew aboard the Coast Guard vessel witnessed the Mary B II take "a 20-foot breaker over the bow." "We lost total visibility of the vessel," Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Thomas Malloy told KOIN 6, Portland, Oregon’s CBS-TV affiliate. Another Coast Guard spokesperson, Executive Petty Officer Jason McCommons, told Portland’s ABC-TV affiliate KATU2, "under complete darkness and breaking waves in excess of 16 to 18 feet, it was unsafe for us to attempt to get our boats inside a rocky known hazardous area without jeopardizing the safety of our crew."

"While the investigation is in its early stages, we can expect a comprehensive investigation by the Coast Guard and potentially another by the NTSB," said Daniel Rose, Kreindler & Kreindler partner, maritime law expert and U.S. Navy veteran.  "Areas that will certainly be looked at are the weather, the weather reporting, and the transmitting of weather information and warnings."

Mr. Rose has represented victims and investigated countless accidents in rivers, lakes and oceans. Some notable maritime cases include a large settlement for a New Jersey client against the U.S. Navy and a tugboat operator following the death of a teenage sailor and a substantial victory for the family of a deckhand on a tugboat in the Hackensack River.  Additional cases include the death of a boat captain who was killed while operating a small workboat near First Street by the Bayonne Bridge in New Jersey. Mr. Rose also successfully represented families in the SS El Faro cargo ship disaster where similar weather-related issues were raised and litigated.

"In cases like this one where the Coast Guard takes on a duty to bring mariners in safely to shore, they must do so carefully and prudently," said Mr. Rose. "While the government, including the Coast Guard and the National Weather Service, can be held legally responsible for mariner deaths, there are significant and complicated legal protections the government enjoys that make such claims extremely challenging."

The ongoing partial U.S. government shutdown has impacted the U.S. Coast Guard in that the Coast Guard receives funding from the Department of Homeland Security and is subjected to the shuttering of parts of the government along with DHS’s other agencies. That stands in contrast to other military services, which are part of the Defense Department and have funding. At the time of the fatal fishing boat accident, approximately 41,000 active-duty Coast Guardsmen were working without pay. Of the guard’s 8,500-person civilian workforce, 6,400 had been placed on indefinite furlough, while 2,100 were working without pay after being identified as essential workers. KATU2 reports that "the Coast Guard said the government shutdown did not impact its coverage or service in the life-saving mission."

Kreindler & Kreindler will continue to monitor the investigation into this tragic accident.