Cantwell Reacts to Coast Guard Investigative Report on Sinking of Alaska Ranger

RICHLAND, WA – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) released the following statement after the U.S. Coast Guard unveiled its report investigating the 2008 sinking of the Alaska Ranger. Among the conclusions, the report listed insufficient enforcement of existing [vessel safety] requirements and a lack of periodic inspections as jeopardizing safety for men and women working aboard fishing vessels. In response, the U.S. Coast Guard Commandant pointed to Cantwell-authored provisions recently enacted as part of the Coast Guard Authorization Act that significantly improve fishing vessel safety standards. Cantwell’s provision mandates dockside examinations of fishing vessels at least once every two years and the issuance of certificates of compliance to vessels that meet the required safety standards.
“Working on the high seas will always carry with it a certain risk and danger, but fishermen have the same right as all Americans to a workplace where their safety is the top priority,” said Senator Cantwell. “I commend the Coast Guard’s heroic rescue efforts, but hope the fishing safety legislation that I helped enact into law last year will ensure that a tragedy like this never happens again. My office will review the details of this report to determine if additional Congressional action is needed.”
Cantwell fought to have fishing vessel safety language included in the Coast Guard Authorization Act, signed into law on October 15, 2010. That newly-enacted law represents a sweeping improvement to fishing vessel safety standards, requiring that all large fishing vessels built after 2012 be approved as seaworthy by an independent classification society. Also under the new law, smaller fishing vessels will have to meet the same basic safety standards currently applied to recreational vessels. Large fishing vessels – those over 50 feet long – built before 2012 will be required to comply with a Coast Guard alternative safety compliance program by 2020. The provision also updates training and safety equipment requirements, and finally gives the Coast Guard the ability to make such requirements region- and fishery-specific. Cantwell, Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, drafted the Coast Guard bill and led the effort to overcome minority-party opposition that had blocked Coast Guard legislation for the previous four years. 
Cantwell also worked to successfully enact a vessel replacement provision as part of the Shark Conservation Act of 2009 (H.R. 81), which was signed into law by President Obama earlier this month. Her provision clarifies an ambiguity in the law that potentially could have prevented fishermen in the Washington and Alaska “head and gut” (H&G) fleet from replacing old, unsafe vessels with new ones. The Alaska Ranger was a member of the H&G fleet.
The 189-foot Alaska Ranger sank off the coast of Alaska in the Bering Sea on March 23, 2008 while fishing for mackerel. Out of the 47 people onboard, four people were killed and one remains missing and is presumed dead. The Alaska Warrior, the first ship to arrive on scene, along with the CGC Munro and two U.S. Coast Guard helicopters were vital to the rescue of the 42 survivors.
Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine awarded its 2009 Aviation Week Heroism Award to the U.S. Coast Guard Rescue Team involved in this rescue operation, stating “the U.S. Coast Guard deems the operation the largest cold-water rescue in its history.”
Today’s Coast Guard report came to similar conclusions as a previous National Transportation Safety Board report in late 2009 on the likely cause of the sinking of Alaska Ranger.