The U.S. Coast Guard medevaced an injured seaman from the M/V GOLDEN ALASKA near Cold Bay, Alaska on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. The vessel requested the medevac after the mariner lost consciousness and was thereafter in an altered mental state. The cause of the mariner’s loss of consciousness is unknown.
After receiving the call, Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak deployed an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter stationed in Cold Bay and hoisted the injured crewmember from the GOLDEN ALASKA. The helicopter transported the crewmember to shore where he was then transferred into the care of local emergency medical personnel, most likely in Cold Bay. The EMS team determined that the injured seaman required a higher level of care than they could provide and arranged transport for further care in Anchorage.
The GOLDEN ALASKA is a fish processing vessel operated by Golden Alaska Seafoods Inc. The vessel is 305 feet long and primarily fishes for pollock in the Bering Sea and near the Aleutian Islands. The GOLDEN ALASKA works in conjunction with a fleet of catcher vessels which supply fish to the ship.
Processing vessels like the GOLDEN ALASKA typically employ large crews composed mostly of fish processors who work in the “factory” to gut, clean, head, freeze, and pack fish at sea. With the amount of equipment on the vessels and adverse sea conditions in the North Pacific and Bering Sea, injuries to fish processors are common. These can include amputations from cutting equipment, back injuries from lifting heavy fish trays and packaged fish, repetitive use injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, slips and falls, and exposure to ammonia gas from the processing vessel’s freezer equipment.
As noted, the exact cause of the seaman’s loss of consciousness on the GOLDEN ALASKA remains unknown. Loss of consciousness to processors and fishermen has a number of causes ranging from accidents to preexisting medical conditions. Common causes of loss of consciousness include falls or a fisherman hitting his or her head, exposure to fumes (including ammonia gas, diesel fumes, and other chemical fumes), strokes, and falling or swinging equipment that can strike a seaman in the head.
Head injuries and loss of consciousness to mariners at sea can be a far more serious injury than a comparable injury on shore. Limited medical facilities on ships and the potential gravity of a head injury or loss of consciousness means that the injury must be approached with heightened caution. As in the case of the mariner on the GOLDEN ALASKA, a head injury or loss of consciousness may warrant an immediate medical evacuation to shore.
Medevacs from commercial fishing vessels in Alaska are common. As in this incident, the Coast Guard may deploy a helicopter to the vessel, transport the fisherman to shore (often Dutch Harbor, Cold Bay, or Kodiak), and then transfer the injured seaman to a life flight crew that can fly the individual on to Anchorage for high level care. Injured mariners typically receive care at one of Anchorage’s two main hospitals – Providence Alaska Medical Center or Alaska Regional Hospital.
If you have been injured on a commercial fishing vessel or have otherwise been injured at sea, it is important to contact an experienced maritime attorney to protect your rights and interests. If you are an injured Jones Act seaman, among the first rights an admiralty attorney can help you enforce is the right to “maintenance & cure.” These maritime benefits entitle Jones Act seamen to medical care for their injury on a ship as well as costs of daily living while recovering from the injury. With more than 80 years of combined experience, the attorneys at Trueb & Beard LLC are available for a free consultation to discuss your rights under maritime and admiralty law.