U.S. Coast Guard investigators and inspectors have identified a concerning trend in violations of maritime law throughout the state of Alaska, ranging from illegal drug use to unserviceable life-saving equipment.
Investigators at Coast Guard Sector Anchorage have observed an increase in the number of positive drug tests for non-credentialed mariners throughout the Arctic and Western Alaska.
Drug tests are administered for various reasons, including individuals engaged or employed on a vessel who are determined to be directly involved in a serious marine incident. In 2019, there was a positive test rate of 15 percent for the year among non-credentialed mariners in the Sector Anchorage area of responsibility. The positive rate increased to 22 percent in the first half of 2020. The most common drug mariners test positive for is marijuana.
Though Alaska legalized recreational marijuana, its use is prohibited aboard commercial fishing vessels by state and federal law. The drug is still considered a controlled substance by the federal government and its use, sale and possession in the United States remains illegal under federal law. Federally-credentialed mariners are prohibited at all times from using marijuana or being under its effect. For those applying for a Coast Guard mariner credential, the consequences of failing a drug test negatively impacts the application process with the National Maritime Center and could delay or preclude issuance of such credential.
Another concerning trend observed by inspectors with the Coast Guard Marine Safety Task Force relates to unserviceable or missing life-saving equipment aboard commercial fishing vessels. From June 8 through 22, members of the task force removed 119 immersion suits during commercial fishing vessel exams in the King Salmon area because they were not in serviceable condition. Most vessel owners replaced the unserviceable suits with new ones to be in compliance. Mariners should have required safety equipment aboard, ensure the equipment is maintained and in good condition, and be familiar with its use prior to an emergency.
In addition to increased positive drug tests for non-credentialed mariners and unserviceable lifesaving equipment aboard vessels, the Coast Guard observed other violations of law throughout the state.
June 17, 2020 – A boarding team from Coast Guard Cutter Mellon (WHEC 717) terminated the voyage of a fishing vessel for not having adequate immersion suits aboard, creating a potentially deadly situation in the event of an emergency.
June 10, 2020: The Coast Guard Sector Anchorage Senior Investigating Officer and a Coast Guard Investigative Services (CGIS) agent served a complaint for suspension/revocation to a mariner passing through the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. He is one of numerous individuals being charged with misconduct for use of fraudulent documentation that led to issuance of a merchant mariner credential.
May 18, 2020: Sector Anchorage issued a letter of warning to a company for operating a barge with an expired internal structural examination and thus jeopardizing the safety of the crew, cargo, and environment.
March 20, 2020: The U.S. Attorney’s Office charged a mariner with assault after Sector Anchorage personnel and CGIS investigated an altercation aboard a fishing vessel operating in the Bering Sea.
March 2, 2020: Inspectors at Coast Guard Sector Juneau issued a $1,000 notice of violation to a local cargo operator for conducting bulk fuel transfers out of compliance with their certificate of inspection and bulk fuel permit.
This list is not all-encompassing but represents the range of infractions Coast Guard personnel are responding to and investigating. Coast Guard personnel remain deployed in areas throughout Alaska to conduct essential missions and perform enforcement operations to meet the influx of seasonal activities in the region.