In a tragic acciden aboard the NORTHERN EAGLE, a commercial fisherman died after exposure to ammonia gas. The crew member, employed by American Seafoods as an engineer on the vessel, was found unresponsive in an engine room. The vessel was already underway back to port in Dutch Harbor at the time of the accident but was still 24 hours out when the accident occurred. No cause for the suspected ammonia leak has been released at this time. The accident remains under investigation.
According to U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class John Highwater, the vessel first reported the incident to the Coast Guard on August 18 at about 4:00 am. Upon arriving in port the next day, investigators from NOAA, the Coast Guard, the Alaska State Troopers, and local first responder agencies boarded the vessel to decontaminate the areas exposed to ammonia and provide grief counseling to the crew.
The NORTHERN EAGLE is a 341-foot factory trawler that primarily fishes pollock, hake, and sole in the Bering Sea. It is the largest vessel in American Seafoods’ trawler fleet. American Seaoods is one of the larger fishing companies operating in Alaska. Most of the company’s fleet consists of trawl vessels fishing out of Dutch Harbor. The vessels have the capacity to catch, process, and package fish all while at sea. Many large fishing vessels like the NORTHERN EAGLE use ammonia to refrigerate and freeze seafood products while at sea. Exposure to ammonia gas can cause internal and external burns and may be life-threatening.
Commercial fishing in Alaska is one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. Fishermen face a number of hazards inlcuding adverse weather, signficiant distances and delays for reaching emergency response resources, exposure to dangerous equipment, and long work hours combined with a high pressure work environment.
Our thoughts are with the deceased crew members friends and family as well as the crew of the NORTHERN EAGLE. We hope that American Seafoods and the authorities conduct a thorough investigation and determine the cause of this tragedy as quickly as possible.