The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says it’s seeking nearly $209,000 in penalties from the owners of an Alaska processing vessel for repeated serious violations ranging from unclean drinking water to lack of a fire suppression system.
“Working in the Alaskan fishing industry – an occupation already regarded as one of the nation's most dangerous – employees aboard the F/V Pacific Producer faced dangers purely of their employer's making, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Coast Guard has found,” according to a statement from OSHA.
A joint investigation by OSHA and the Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound opened at Kodiak, Alaska, in July 2022, but was delayed when the Pacific Producer departed, according to OSHA. The investigation resumed when the An inspection by the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration was initially opened in July 2022 in Kodiak, Alaska, but was delayed when the F/V Pacific Producer – a 472-ton seafood processing vessel – departed the port.
Working with Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound, a joint inspection resumed when the vessel 169-foot, 472-ton vessel built in 1946 arrived in Seattle in October.
“Inspectors found murky, brown water in the ship's drinking water system; crew members being served expired food; water used to process fish leaking into dry food storage and the galley's dining area; and other unsanitary conditions throughout the vessel,” according to OSHA.
“In addition, OSHA discovered employees exposed to dangerous electrical hazards throughout the vessel, including damaged and improperly installed electrical equipment, broken outlets and outlets near water, ungrounded extension cords and exposed wiring. Inspectors also found the vessel had no fire suppression system as required, which exposed the crew to fire hazards.”
Vessel operator East West Seafoods LLC and owner Christos Tsabouris for two repeat serious, 17 serious violations, and one other than serious violation on Jan. 12, 2023. The agency proposed $208,983 in penalties. The Coast Guard revoked the vessel’s certificate of compliance, effectively taking it out of fishing until repairs are made.
East West Seafood has an extended “history of unsafe operations that have exposed employees to the risk of serious harm or death,” according to OSHA. In 2012, 2014 and 2018, OSHA inspections “identified similar sanitation, electrical and fire hazards, and other dangers related to a lack of lockout/tagout, machine-guarding and fall protections, and a 2018 ammonia leak,” the agency says.
"Alaskan fishing industry workers depend on their employers for vessels that don't jeopardize their safety and health," said Jack Rector, OSHA’s acting regional administrator in Seattle. "For more than a decade, our inspectors have found disgusting and dangerous conditions aboard the F/V Pacific Producer, and the well-being of crews aboard the vessel are at great risk because of its owner's failures."
In addition to OSHA's actions, the Coast Guard invalidated the Pacific Producer's certificate of compliance, halting the employer's continued operations until repairs are made.
In 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice found East West Seafoods intentionally discharged oily bilge water and 1,000 gallons of raw sewage into the ocean within three miles of the Alaskan coast in 2013, and later presented false records to the USCG. A federal court in Alaska sentenced the company and its owner to five years of probation and $50,000 in fines.
The company has contested the citations and penalties to the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.