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Coast Guard Halts Illegal Use of ‘Paper Captains’ in Wash.-Based Tuna Fishing Operation

Many fishing vessels have engaged in a pattern and practice of hiring foreign nationals to serve on U.S. commercial fishing vessels in the capacity of captain.

The Coast Guard ceased the use of illegal foreign nationals on a commercial fishing vessel that operated out of the State of Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 19.

A Coast Guard Sector Columbia River law enforcement team inspected an 89-foot fishing vessel and determined that the vessel was in violation of the Jones Act – specifically, they were in violation for utilizing a “paper captain.”

Paper captain is a term applied to an individual listed on documents as a U.S.-flagged vessel’s captain but in actuality serves as a deckhand or in a similar lower-level capacity. It is the law (46 USC §12131) that a documented vessel be under the command of a U.S. citizen.

Many fishing vessels have engaged in a pattern and practice of hiring foreign nationals to serve on U.S. commercial fishing vessels in the capacity of captain, while U.S. nationals identified as captains on paper serve in subordinate roles.

Many of these violations have been supplemented by underlying fraudulent documents designed to avoid detection and mask the illegal operation.

“The employment of a foreign national as captain aboard a U.S.-flagged commercial fishing vessel is illegal,” said Lt. Cmdr. Colin Fogarty. the enforcement chief at Coast Guard Sector Columbia River in Warrenton, Oregon. “The practice of utilizing paper captains subverts U.S. laws and regulations designed to protect hard-working American fishermen and mariners.”

In addition to violating the Jones Act, the vessel had several safety violations including: expired Firefighting equipment; expired. degraded immersion suits; an inoperable Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) hydrostatic release: and failure to conduct safety drills.

The Coast Guard issued a Notice of Violation for $3,000.00 and the vessel’s Certificate of Documentation was rescinded for violating the Jones Act.

Since 2020, the Coast Guard has detected a total of 10 Paper Captain Violations, primarily in the tuna fleets that operate throughout the Pacific Ocean. In total, Sector Columbia River and sister units have issued nearly $40,000 in fines directly linked to employment of foreign nationals as captains.

Read more at USCG

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