Though the case is on-going, the ship's master of the Ocean Beaut has been charged with negligent operation of a vessel and boating while intoxicated and may be fined $1000. The deckhand of the Ocean Beaut has been charged with refusal to submit to a drug test and negligence and may be fined $7500. Both men have since been terminated from their positions aboard the Ocean Beaut and no longer work for the vessel's owner.
The crew of the Columbian Star had just completed setting their nets the morning of Jan. 12 when the Ocean Beaut came into view. The master of the Columbian Star stated that while setting his nets he saw the Ocean Beaut to the stern and some distance off, and that it appeared that the vessel was on a widening course with no risk of collision. Shortly after, the Ocean Beaut collided with the Columbian Star. The investigation revealed that the Ocean Beaut's deckhand had fallen asleep at the wheel.
The Ocean Beaut's starboard outrigger collided with the Columbian Star's mast, mast stay, and port outrigger. The collision caused severe damage to the fiberglass deck structures, equipment, equipment foundations, and fasteners.
The Columbian Star's mast began to work with the seas causing more damage and jeopardizing vessel stability, and the rocking of the mast was breaking the deck and slowing the vessel's ability to right itself. The master decided to jettison the mast to save the vessel. He and his crewman worked to cut the damaged fasteners and mast electrical cables.
The mast was jettisoned but, in the process, became hung up on the starboard outrigger and the outrigger was lost as well. The mast contained all radio and radar antennae, so the vessel's ability to communicate and navigate was severely affected. The Columbian Star made it into port safely, and once they were near shore, the crew was able to report the casualty to the Coast Guard.
The Ocean Beaut remained on scene until the Columbian Star was made stable and proceeded into port.
The only damage to the Ocean Beaut was a bent port outrigger. Drug and alcohol testing was completed on the Ocean Beaut's master, but the deckhand refused to test. Drug tests conducted on the crew of the F/V Columbian Star were negative.
"The Coast Guard is extremely concerned about the use of heroin and other contraband by some commercial fishermen," said Capt. Bruce Jones, Sector Columbia River Commander. "The 'most dangerous profession' is hazardous enough without intoxicants. Safe commercial fishing demands exceptional seamanship, constant vigilance and continuous risk management. None of these are possible while operating under the influence of illegal drugs or suffering from sleep deprivation to the point of falling asleep at the helm. The public and other waterway users have a right to expect that all mariners operating vessels in our waters are alert and sober."
"In contrast to the Ocean Beaut, the quick thinking and actions of the Columbian Star's master and crew prevented the loss of either vessel and crew and are to be commended."
This case will be further investigated jointly with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Law Enforcement (NOAA-OLE) for potential violations of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. NOAA-OLE is examining whether or not a person or persons failed to maintain safe conditions for the protection of federal groundfish observers.