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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Alaska Ranger Second Update!

Holy Cripes! This story is shaking out badly for everyone involved. Check here for the AP version. Check here for even more info from out of Seattle. Or read below for the abridged version and my commentary.

Bottom line is this: According to witnesses and survivors the Fish Boss and the Captain were apparently at odds over how hard the vessel was to be run. A sad and stupid state of shipboard affairs made even more mysterious by the fact that the two men responsible for the crew's safety, the Fish Boss, who represented the fish buyers and not the owners of the vessel, and the captain, who worked strictly for the vessel owners, are now dead.

According to witnesses and survivors, the Fish Boss forced the vessel to proceed at an unsafe speed through pack ice on more than one occasion. He was also, according to reports, not altogether disinclined to boozing it up while on duty. Whether this contributed directly to the sinking is not yet known, and may never be. However, it doesn't take a genius to understand what happens when thinning steel meets hard ice, or when the man on watch is a stupid drunk.

One witness claims there was 1" of water in the rudder room the day the vessel got underway on its last trip. Other witnesses claim the vessel had been leaking for awhile and that there were multiple, untended safety violations on board, including ripped survival suits.

A statement in the AP story that caught my attention right off: One of the survivors said it was the Fish Boss who really ran the boat and not the captain. If this is true, it doesn't speak well for either man. There's a damn good reason why a ship is run through a chain of command and an equally good reason why the captains' word is law.

If the reports are accurate, the captain should have done whatever was necessary to get this arrogant piece of crap fish boss out of the picture. Maritime law places the burden of responsibility solely on the shoulders of the captain, not a buyer's rep who happens to be in charge of the processing plant.

Of course, it's possible the man in question here, the Fish Boss, was a fully-licensed professional merchant mariner in addition to being the man in charge of the factory room. It's also possible he was the real captain and not the guy everybody is calling the captain. It's possible -- but not likely. Time will tell.

Either way -- far be it of me to speak ill of the dead -- but if these reports coming out of the investigation are even half true, the Fish Boss on the Alaska Ranger was a complete and utter knob.

The AP story also makes mention of some video showing the vessel steaming through pack ice, video the company attorney claims was part of an extortion plot. He says one of the survivors offered to get rid of the video for $100,000.

There is still a long way to go before we know what happened on the Alaska Ranger and figure out who, if anyone, is to blame for its loss. However, one thing we can guess from today's testimony: There was some strange and unsafe crew mojo aboard that boat.


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