The Alaskan fishing industry is one of the most dangerous for workers. A recent joint investigation by OSHA and the U.S. Coast Guard found the crew for one seafood processor living in deplorable conditions while working for an operator with a history of workplace violations.
OSHA's initial investigation was opened in July 2022 but was delayed when the 472-ton seafood processing vessel, the F/V Pacific Producer, left port in Kodiak, Alaska. As a result, the investigation was pushed back until the ship arrived in Seattle about four months later.
During the inspection, investigators found a host of unsanitary conditions, including brown, murky drinking water and expired food served to the crew. In addition, the water used to process fish was leaking into the galley's dining area and dry food storage. On top of that, the crew was exposed to electrical hazards throughout the vessel, like improperly installed electrical equipment, broken outlets, outlets near water, ungrounded extension cords and exposed wiring. The F/V Pacific Producer also lacked a suitable fire suppression system.
On Jan. 12, 2023, the ship's operator, East West Seafoods, and owner Christos Tsabouris were cited for 20 violations with $208,983 in proposed penalties.
East West Seafoods has a history of unsafe operations. OSHA found similar violations in 2012, 2014 and 2018, as well as a lack of lockout/tagout, machine-guarding and fall protection. In 2018 the ship had an ammonia leak.
In 2017, the Justice Department found that the operator intentionally discharged oily bilge water and 1,000 gallons of raw sewage into the ocean, all about three miles from the Alaskan coast in 2013. The company also presented false records to the Coast Guard. As a result, a federal court sentenced East West Seafoods and Tsabouris to five years of probation and $50,000 in fines.
OSHA's Jack A. Rector in Seattle chastised the operator, stating, "For more than a decade, our inspectors have found disgusting and dangerous conditions aboard the F/V Pacific Producer, and the well-being of crews aboard the vessel are at great risk because of its owner's failures."
Now, we sometimes talk about OSHA's lack of teeth to create real change in these situations, but the Coast Guard has some levers it can pull. The Coast Guard invalidated the F/V Pacific Producer's certificate of compliance, stopping all operations until repairs are made.