Observer Casualties, Injuries, and Near Misses - OSIRS
Fisheries Observation work involves certain inherent risks. This project, initiated by Brad Justin in the Fall 2007, focuses on building awareness of these risks and dangerous situations. By cataloging actual case examples of Observer casualties, injuries, and near misses, we hope to provide an important resource of "lessons learned" for stakeholders to reference when fully comprehending the potential dangers of the profession.
The Observer Safety Incident Reporting System (OSIRS) is a global initiative that records and examines all types of Fisheries and Marine Observer safety incidents on board fishing, seismic, reefer and dredge vessels, covering also drilling operations, pile driving, marine blasting and fish farming monitoring, including port and shoreside facilities. The OSIRS is voluntarily and Fisheries and Marine Observer safety incident/situation reports can be submitted by observers, observer providers, fisheries agencies, debriefers and others stakeholders. OSIRS will analyze the reports, and respond in order to lessen the likelihood of Fisheries and Marine Observer safety incidents.
The primary objective of investigating an observer accident is to clarify its circumstances and causes, with the aim of improving the observer safety at sea and the avoidance of accidents in the future. It is not the purpose to apportion liability; we do not enforce laws or carry out prosecutions. The Project was created to raise awareness about the risks and threats to the safety of Fisheries Observers, and to use as tool to minimize safety incidents involving fisheries observers in the future and to support policy formulation and planning.
The Project has an electronic reporting form (goo.gl/1HfN7K) which automatically uploads the incident data into a database, which is available for further analysis. OSIRS maintains a computerized database of reportable observer accidents, which have occurred since the start of the programme, besides providing an accessible source of information; the database can be analyzed to identify accident patterns.
To ensure confidentiality all personal and organizational names are removed, dates, times, and related information, which could be used to infer an identity, are either generalized or eliminated, the OSIRS acts on the information these reports contain, the aim of the programme is to identify safety deficiencies, trends on observer safety and issues, with the purpose to alert the persons in a position to correct them. The database is a public repository which serves the observer stakeholders needs and those of other organizations world-wide which are engaged in research and the promotion of safe at-sea observation.
Definitions for reporting purposes:
Accident: An accident is an undesired event that results in personal injury, damage or loss. Accidents include loss of life or major injury to any person on board, or when a person is lost from a vessel; the actual or presumed loss of a vessel, her abandonment or material damage to her; collision or grounding, disablement, and also material damage caused by a vessel. An accident can also be an occurrence such as the collapse of lifting gear, an unintended movement of cargo or ballast sufficient to cause a list, a loss of cargo overboard or a snagging of fishing gear which results in the vessel heeling to a dangerous angle, if the occurrence could have caused serious injury or damage to the health of any person.
Major injury:A major injury includes any fracture to, or loss of, a limb, loss of sight, or any other injury requiring resuscitation or leading to hypothermia or admittance to a hospital or other medical facility for more than 24 hours.
Serious injury:A serious injury is an injury, other than a major injury, when the injured person is incapacitated for more than three consecutive days.
Hazardous incident: A hazardous incident is when an accident nearly occurs in connection with the operation of a vessel. In other words, it is what is often known as a "near miss".
Accidents, including observer major injuries, should be reported through the OSIRS by the quickest possible means, serious injuries must be investigated by the Fisheries Agency, and the findings reported to the OSIRS within 14 days. Hazardous incidents don't have to be reported, but the OSIRS encourages owners, masters and skippers to report them. Hazardous incidents often teach us lessons that are every bit as relevant as those arising from accidents. Although in some cases, the ship's owner's or fishery agency's own investigation will be sufficient, the OSIRS may conduct an office-based investigation by correspondence and telephone to seek further details on any accident. All investigations seek answers to four basic questions:
- what happened?
- how did it happen?
- why did it happen?
- and the most important: what can be done to prevent it happening again?
No two cases are ever the same, and the process may take different forms, an OSIRS follow up is entirely independent of any enquiries made by the police or other authority collecting evidence for a possible prosecution.
Aside from these four basic questions, please provide as much detail as possible regarding the incident, including who was involved, the timing of the events leading up to, during, and after the incident, etc. The more detail provided, the better incidents can be appropriately categorized and clearer the approaches to prevention will be.
The Observer Safety Incident Reporting System (OSIRS) is a non-profit initiative in the framework of the Observer Casualties, Injuries and Near Misses Project in the APO, is therefore a separate project within the Association for Professional Observers, a NGO based in the USA. The OSIRS examines and records all types of fisheries observer accidents on board fishing vessels worldwide, besides ports and shoreside facilities mostly in the USA.
A generic Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was developed to be signed between the Association for Professional Observers and the Observer Programme who wishes to join this initiative, this project will take the lead in tracking Safety Incidents with Fisheries Observers involved, the aim of the project is also to expand and keep records from other regions and countries.
Annual reports, and a collection of short, anonymous reports on the lessons learned from examinations and investigations will be available for the stakeholders. These publications will provide details of the outcomes of recommendations based on its findings identify and analyses the relevant safety issues pertaining to the specific accident, and make recommendations aimed at preventing similar accidents in the future. From time to time, the Project Leader may publish a report highlighting specific safety problems, safety trends, or any other issues he feels should be brought to the attention of the fisheries observer community and the public.
For further information about the OSIRS or for information about specific accidents, contact the project at the address below:
Association for Professional Observers
Observer Safety Incident Reporting System (OSIRS)
P.O. Box 933
Eugene, Oregon 97440
The tragedies outlined here are painful lessons that remind us that despite great improvements in safety since the 1990's (heightened safety training and safety equipment provided to observers), the fisheries observer job is still quite dangerous. Luckily, we can reduce these risks by raising awareness of past incidents. The aim of this on-going project is not only to categorize all observer casualties, injuries, and near misses (all that are made available to the public) but to also promote, through advocacy and education, certain desirable practices meant to ensure observers' safety and to provide a foundation for new and emerging observer programs and Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMO) to help with improving safety conditions for their observers.
[Last Updated: 20 March 2017 - This section is under development. It is an incomplete list. Please contact us with other cases and we will do our best to keep this updated along with links to available information. Thank you.]
Catalogue of Observer Casualties, Injuries, and Near Misses
Observer Deaths - Cause of death undetermined, died under suspicious circumstances, not reported by agency officials and/or is still being investigated.
Usaia Masibalavu (Fiji) - May 21, 2016 - Died on the F/V Western Pacific, a United States Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) registered tuna purse seine vessel.
Larry Gavin (Papua New Guinea) - 2016?? No date given, no information - Disappeared.
Wesley Talia - July xx(?), 2015 - Kavieng, New Ireland, Papua New Guinea (PNG) (originally from Rabaul, New Britain, PNG) - July 2016 - Disappeared (most likely murdered). Quoting a source: "His body was sighted by people in a canoe about three days after he went missing. The people thought to tow it [the canoe with the body] to land but decided not to because their canoe was quite full. When later the people heard that Wesley was missing they recognised that the body they saw was highly likely that of Wesley, because of it's size and shape. The people did report it to local fisheries staff shortly after they knew of the disappearance [of Wesley] and to other villagers before that. However, local fisheries took a "long time" to get back to them with a few more questions, but then fisheries [NFA] quickly dismissed it as not substantial enough to follow up. That the body was wrapped in a "blue cloak" (the same as the vessel's livery) is of some interest. There are all sorts of colours around this story - the vessel he went missing from was one of a fleet of 7-9 (again different numbers depending on which local expert you speak to) which were on their first trips of a rather unusual licensing arrangement whereby they were foreign vessels fishing under license to the provincial government rather than to the national government, as foreign vessels usually are. The observer deployed was placed by the only PNG observer provider - the national government, however." This was one of several vessels that were illegally licensed to the PNG provincial government rather than to the national government (as is done with most foreign vessels), yet the national government placed the observer. As of October 2015, Cause of death undetermined, not reported and not investigated.
Josh Sheldon (USA) - March 26, 2016 - US observer - Died of infection on board a Vietnamese longline fishing vessel while working for the Pelagic Observer Program, Miami, Florida. Nothing has been reported about the circumstances surrounding his death or the protocols that were followed to rescue him when he became unconscious. He was found unconscious on March 16. It's not clear what protocols were followed after this, but it appears that either the captain or crew member called the "fish house" to get NMFS' phone number. The timeline has not been reported regarding details about who was called at what time. We do know that the vessel met the USCG at an oil rig, where Josh was medically evacuated and taken to the hospital. The only conclusive dates we have regarding the timeline is when Josh was found unconscious (March 16) and when he died (March 26). Cause of death undetermined and not reported.
Keith Davis (USA) - September 10, 2015 - Arizona, United States - Disappeared (most likely murdered) - Keith was working for MRAG Americas on an Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) transshipment observer assignment. He disappeared after having collected data on the fish being transshipped over to the reefer vessel, Victoria No. 168, from the longline fishing vessel, Chung Kuo No. 818. The Victoria No. 168 is a Chinese-owned, Panama flagged (flag of convenience) and the Chung Kuo No. 818 is a Chinese - owned, Vanuatu flagged (another flag of convenience) longline fishing vessel. Panama has closed its investigation. Please see the timeline and additional information. Cause of death undetermined, not reported, still under investigation.
Chris Langel (USA) - March 10, 2012, the F/V Lady Cecelia went missing off the Washington Coast. The vessel encountered bad weather with 12 foot seas and 75 knot winds, other three crew members are still missing. The cause of the sinking is still under investigation.
Unknown (Korea) - December 13, 2010 - CCAMLR Observer - Died in the Antarctica when the F/V Insung No.1 capsized, other 21 crew members lost their lives, a second Scientific Observer from Russia (the International Observer) was rescued by the F/V Hongjin 707 and survived. The issue was investigated by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission of New Zealand conducted the investigation. New Zealand coroner blamed negligence as the cause of the sinking.
Charlie Lasisi (Papua New Guinea) - March 29th, 2010; F/V Dolores 838, Bismarck Sea. Charlie was an observer with the National Fisheries Authority of Papua New Guinea he was allegedly murdered by six Filipino crew, the body was never recovered, the 6 Filipino crew are now free men with the charges against them having been dismissed. A transcript of an interview with the family, conducted in 2013, was provided to APO. Up until that interview, they were not given any information about the death of their son, the investigation conducted by the NFA, or the results of DNA samples they had provided to match with bones found. In October 2015, it was reported that: "His remains were recovered west of Wewak (north-western PNG). His legs and body were bound with chains." Cause of death undetermined, not reported.
Unknown (Angola) - (unknow date and vessels) - Two Angolan observers disappeared whilst on duty on board. Cause of death undetermined, no information.
Estelle Laberge (Canada) - Dec 16-17, 1990; F/V Nadine; Quebec- 7 deaths, including observer. 2 survivors. Not reported.
Observer Deaths - Known causes, reported
Jay Alderman (USA) - September 19, 2007; F/V Westward I, North Pacific. Fell in the water and drowned while attempting to re-board his vessel.
Jay Howell (USA) - observer trainee - January 1st, 1997; North Pacific
Died of exposure in Anchorage, AK. Body found April, 1998 in Cook Inlet.
Chris Scanlon (USA) - July 1991; North Pacific
Hit by a drunk driver while bicycling back from hiking in Kodiak, AK.
Robert W. McCord (USA) - March 22nd, 1990: F/V Aleutian Enterprise; North Pacific. As reported in Alaska Commercial Fishing Wrecks, "The 162 foot capsized and sank while hauling in a cod end 60 miles south of St Paul Island. 22 crewmembers were rescued by other fishing vessels. Nine were lost including Nello Marciel (55) of San Diego, John Dietrich (31) of Seattle, Matthew Schneider (22) of Issaquah WA, Joseph Alaimo (45) of Yakima WA, Robert Davies (26) of Renton WA, Jeffrey Houston (21) of Warren OR, Jayier Martin Valenzuela Castro (27) of Seattle, passenger David Jeffries (19) of Fontano CA, and an observer, Robert McCord (35) of Englewood CO."
Wendell Cullet (Canada) - December, 1983; Newfoundland - Drowned while making an at sea transfer and the dory he was in capsized.
Off the Job Deaths
Mischa Newman (USA) - June 2003; North Pacific - Crushed by the all-terrain vehicle she was riding while researching black-footed ferrets in Montana.
Jose Luis Diaz (Chile) - November 28th., 2008; F/V Puerto Williams, IFOP Observer (Chile Fishery Agency) Poisoned onboard after drinking methyl alcohol, he was attended in a hospital in Punta Arenas (Chile) together with other two crew members, shortly after he died.
Alasdair Fowler (Canada) - circa 1987; Newfoundland - Died when the small plane he was flying home from Greenland crashed. No survivors.
CCAMLR Observer/s (Korean?) - January 11th, 2012 - The F/V Jung Woo caught fire in Ross Sea (Antarctica), three crew member died, 37 men were rescued.
CCAMLR Observer (Ukraine) - December 16, 2011 - Onboard the Russian F/V Sparta stranded in the ice in Ross Sea (Antarctica) for 11 days, the ship hit underwater ice on the the December 16, 2011 and produced a one foot hole in the hull. The observer and the rest of the crew (31 members) were rescued unharmed.
Michele Klodzinski (USA) - February 26th, 2008: F/T Pacific Glacier; North PacificFire. All had to abandon ship. All of the crew and the observer survived.
Jason Vallee and Gwen Rains (USA) - March 23rd, 2008; F/T Alaska Ranger; North Pacific
Vessel sank. Five of the crew died, and the rest of the crew and the two on-board observers survived.
Meghan Miner (USA) - Sep. 28th, 2007: F/V Jacob Allen; Northeast
Vessel sank. All of crew including observer survived.
Brook Doughtie (USA) - 2005: F/V Eva Joy; Northeast, Fire. Vessel sank. All of crew including observer survived.
Elizabeth Mitchell (USA) - 83 Survived during a failure in an at sea transfer between fishing boats, a crew member suffered hypothermia.
Robin Harrison (USA) - February 14th, 1984; F/V Anyo Maru No.15, Bering Sea, the Japanese fishing boat rammed into the Kyowa Maru No.11 during a storm in Bering Sea, fourteen crew in the Kyowa Maru No.11 died, the observer survived.
Eumer Villarroel (Venezuela) - January 16th, 2010; F/B Calypso (Venezuela flag); The observer survived the sinking of the boat with fourteen crew members. The ship sank 40 NM off Cartagena (Colombia) on her way from Venezuela to Panama. Fifteen persons were rescued and three are still missing.
Tania Fernandez Vivancos (Spain?) - February 22nd. 2009; F/V Monte Galineiro (spanish flag); North Atlantic 235 NM off the coast of Terranova, CA. All 22 crew, including the observer, survived the sinking of the ship. She was hired by TRAGSA and deployed as NAFO Observer.
Unknown (Argentina) - January 27th, 2007; F/V Puente America, 110 NM off Puerto Deseado (Argentina), caught fire and all the persons onboard abandoned the ship, the crew (45 plus the observer) were rescued safe.
Unknown (Uruguay?) - November 5th., 2006; F/V Holberg, The Uruguayan boat ran aground in Port Purvis, West Falkland Island, the 31 crew and two observers managed to abandon the ship.
Phillip McDonald (Canada) - September 12th., 2005; F/V Melina and Keith II, Newfoundland. The DFO Observer and three more crew (total of eight) onboard survived.
Unknown (Canada) - July 25th., 2005; F/V Ocean Tor, West of Cape Flattery, Washington, USA. The ship sank and only the observer and the Master (of a total of 4 people onboard) survived. Both of them were transported to Ucluelet and treated for hypothermia.
Michael Slusar (Canada) - February 26th., 2004; F/V Hope Bay; British Columbia. Observer was the only survivor of a total of four onboard.
Eugenio Olivares (unknown nationality) - May 1st., 2003; F/V Lyn (Falkland Islands flag), Southern Ocean. The vessel ran aground on the entrance of Moraine Fjord, South Georgia Island (near Antarctica.) Crew and MRAG observer survived.Marcus Shuttleworth (unknown nationality) - May 1st., 2003; F/V Moresko 1 (Korean flag). The vessel ran aground in Cumberland Bay. The entire crew and MRAG observer survived, uninjured.
Tahmores Moslempour (unknown nationality) - 30th April 2003, F/V Viking Bay (Spanish flag), ran aground in Genny Beach near King Edward Point, South Georgia. The ship was able to get herself off the beach. The MRAG observer was dropped off and the boat proceeded to Stanley for hull inspection.
Unknown (Argentina) - November 1st, 2001, F/V Conarpesca 1, off Cabo dos Bahias (Argentina). The vessel capsized in 15 minutes after a collision with the F/V Mar Esmeralda. The observer and the rest of the crew survived.
IFOP Observer (Chile) - September 7th, 2000; F/V Don Gregorio (Chile). The vessel sank 72nm off Talcahuano (Chile). The observer and other 17 crew members were rescued alive.
Matt Lewis (unknown nationality) - F/V Sudur Havid, June, 1998, South Georgia. The ship sank, 18 of 38 people onboard died, the observer among the survivors. He wrote the book "Last Man Off" about the incident.
Unknown (Canada) - December 2nd., 1997; F/V Pacific Charmer, Off Vancouver, BC. The fishing vessel sank, two crew of five persons onboard died. The DFO Observer was recovered unconscious when rescued from the sea and revived by prompt medical attention from a hovercraft of the Coast Guard.
Judith Reeves (Canada) - Oct. 28th 1991; L/L Eishin Maru; Northeast. She and her crew survived the infamous "Perfect Storm".Cyril Forward (Canada) - Newfoundland - Survived 3 sinkings. He is still an active observer.
On the Job Injuries
NOAA Observer (USA) - February 18th, 2010; F/V Pacific Star; Hand Injuries when a line parted aboard, was treated by personnel of the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley.
Off the Job Injuries
Brian Petrie (USA)- January 9, 2007; North Pacific
Struck by a bus in Chile which ran a red light while he was in a crosswalk. Brian has undergone extensive physiotherapy for neck and back injuries.
Things to Consider regarding this Catalogue:
- What circumstances increase the risk of observer deaths and injuries?
- What can be done -- both before and during -- emergencies to reduce these risks?
Most of the incidents listed occurred in either the USA or Canada. We know that other nation's programs may be suffering higher casualties and incidents. Only by sharing information with one another can we learn from our mistakes and work together to be safer.
We know that this list is very incomplete. Please help us to piece other incidents together. If anyone has any information which may lead us to other observer casualties, injuries, and near-misses from anywhere around the world, please contact Ebol Rojas at firstname.lastname@example.org or Liz Mitchell at: email@example.com. General contact for this project is the APO at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact InformationPlease do not hesitate to contact us with your questions or feedback, and if you have any interest in participating in the developments of this project.
Ebol Rojas: email@example.com
Liz Mitchell: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Hansford, D., Cornish, V. 2001. Fisheries Observer Insurance, Liability, and Labor Workshop. NOAA Tech. Memo. Prepared by MRAG Americas, Inc. 112p.
- Cox, David C. 2003. Plan to manage risks and minimize liabilities associated with the deployment of contracted fisheries observers. Final Report by QuanTech. Inc. on NOAA Contract No. 50-DGNF-1-90089
- International Fishing Industry Safety and Health Conference. Safety Training for Fishermen. October 23-25, 2000, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
- Letter to Bill Hogarth - March 10, 2004 regarding 11/13/03 Memo on application of the FLSA to observers - his response to the APO on 4/21/04
Word Document: http://apo- observers.org/letter/hogarth_3-10-04_final.doc
- Draft Fisheries Observer Compensation Act (FOCA) language and Whitepaper providing background information: Draft FOCA: http://apo -observers.org/letter/FOCA_NOPdraft_16Jul2002.pdf
Draft Whitepaper: http://apo- observers.org/letter/Whitepaper_Aug17_02.pdf
APO FOCA Comments: http://apo- observers.org/letter/FOCA_APO_9-4-02.pdf
APO Whitepaper Comments: http://apo- observers.org/letter/Whitepaper_APOcomments_9-15- 02.pdf
- Federal Employee Compensation Act (FECA), US Observer Insurance
- Justin, Brad. Observer Casualties, Injuries, and Near Misses. In: Mail Buoy. Fall 2007. [Vol. 10 (3)]
- Evaluation of NMFS Observer Safety Training (USA)
- Troop, Dan. F/V Alaska Ranger Catastrophe and USCG Safety Compliance (ACSA. In: Mail Buoy. Summer 2008. [Vol. 11 (2)]
- Billings, Alicia. Safety Tips - Lessons Learned from the North Pacific. In: Mail Buoy. Summer 2008. [Vol. 11 (2)]