Engineer's Death on Factory Trawler Linked to Suspected Ammonia Leak

The vessel's operator changed the freezing equipment to ammonia-based tech to reduce its carbon footprint.

Alaska Public Media reported that an American Seafoods engineer died on one of the fishery company’s factory trawlers. The cause of death is suspected to be an ammonia leak on board. 

According to U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class John Highwater, other crew members found the worker, who was identified as David Kumah, unresponsive shortly after midnight on August 18. 

At 43 years old, Kumah was part of the team operating on Northern Eagle, the longest ship among American Seafoods’ fleet of six DNV fishing vessels that oversee the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea fisheries.

According to the American Seafoods website, in 2012, the company rebuilt Northern Eagle’s processing lines and installed new technology. It also changed the vessel’s freezing equipment to ammonia-based technology with the goal of reducing the ship’s carbon footprint. 

The 341-foot single-level vessel, which can hold a crew of 143 and 1,500 metric tons of frozen cargo, was on its way to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor when it called the Coast Guard to report Kumah’s condition. The Coast Guard received the satellite call at 4 a.m. on August 18 and determined that the ship would arrive at port sooner than Coast Guard personnel could reach it.

Northern Eagle eventually reached Unalaska on August 19, about 24 hours after the distress call, but Kumah was pronounced dead before the ship arrived. The local fire department provided decontamination services for the vessel.

An American Seafoods spokesperson stated that the company is cooperating with local authorities. The investigation into the incident involves a joint effort by Alaska State Troopers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Coast Guard.

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