A commercial fishing accident in June 2020 claimed the lives of beloved restaurant owners in the area. According to reports, the U.S. Coast Guard received a distress call from the fishing boat F/V Aquarius in the early morning hours of June 29. The call stated that all members of the crabbing vessel were abandoning ship. The ship had struck a jetty in Siuslaw River Bar and was taking on water.
Emergency crews searched from the shore and via helicopter. One individual was located near the shore and alerted rescuers that others were onboard the ship. A second person was found unresponsive, and was rescued by helicopter. Around 7 a.m., the last person was found unresponsive in the water. A rescue swimmer located the individual and brought them to EMS.
Sadly, the two individuals who were unresponsive did not survive. They were later identified as Kyle and Amber Novelli of Florence, Oregon. The pair owned a restaurant called Novelli’s Crab and Seafood on the docks. They were known for award-winning crab chowder. News of their passing had a deep impact on their loved ones and the Florence community.
The Novelli’s were fishermen and were part of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.
Commercial Fishing Accident Highlights Importance of Ship Technology
Following the tragic commercial fishing accident, the U.S. Coast Guard released a statement about the unforgiving and treacherous nature of the ocean. The Coast Guard highlighted the importance of onboard communications. Senior Chief Petty Officer Jay Nilles says,
“Without today’s technology of VHF-FM radio communications and an EPIRB, we would not have been able to quickly locate the scene of distress, followed by the location of survivors and victims. This highlights the need for life-saving equipment on our commercial fishing fleet as we continue our mission to make commercial fishing safer for everyone.”
The Coast Guard says that their ability to receive the distress call and respond quickly was a key factor in saving the one survivor and getting him medical care quickly.
50 Percent of Marine Accidents Involve Commercial Fishing Vessels
What happened to the Novelli’s is sadly very common in the commercial fishing industry. In December 2019, research revealed that 50 percent of marine accidents involve commercial fishing vessels. The primary causes of these accidents vary, including:
- Vessel sinking
- Falls overboard
- Incidents involving machinery
In the case of the F/V Aquarius, it appears that the ship struck a jetty in a difficult area of water. In this particular case, the Siuslaw River Bar is very narrow and the bar extends out past the jetties. The area is often considered impassable to smaller ships, especially during ebbing tides. Generally, boaters are warned to use “extreme caution” when operating in this area.
With that in mind, narrow waterways are not the only places where a commercial fishing accident can happen. These accidents frequently happen in larger bodies of water, such as The Bering Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. There are many factors that contribute to commercial fishing accidents, including:
- Inadequate training of crewmembers
- Inadequate inspections of the ship
- Operators sailing into areas that are hazardous
- Poor weather conditions
- Heavy surf conditions
- Defective or malfunctioning machinery
Can a Commercial Fishing Accident be Prevented?
While factors like weather and surf conditions cannot always be predicted, there are some things that crews can do to prevent the likelihood of a commercial fishing accident. These preventative measures include:
- All fishermen should take marine safety classes every few years
- Fishermen should wear a PFD at all times when possible
- Ensure that PFDs are available for all persons on board
- Review weather and tide forecasts before launching
- Ensure routine inspections and maintenance
- Install man overboard alarms onboard fishing boats
- Conduct monthly drills for crew members
Commercial fishing boat owners have a duty to ensure that fishing boats are safe, are seaworthy and are operating properly. Operators also have a duty to promote a safe environment on board the ship, to check weather conditions and make sure the ship is traveling in a safe area. When owners and/or operators fail to maintain these duties, they put the lives of crewmembers at risk.
Crewmembers who suffer injury in a commercial fishing accident due to the negligence or carelessness of a ship owner or operator may be eligible for compensation for their injuries and any resulting financial losses.