Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the maritime industry and in any industry. Workers on commercial fishing boats face long hours, bad weather, and rough seas. They often suffer from fatigue, hypothermia, and equipment injuries. They are also vulnerable to falls overboard, which can lead to drownings. A recent tragic accident on a commercial fishing vessel off the coast of California highlights the many dangers of earning a living fishing.
77-Year-Old Man Dies after Fall Overboard
The recent tragedy occurred on November 1 off the coast of Eureka, California in Humboldt County. The 77-year-old fisherman, Melvin Richard Van Ronk, was from Redcrest. He died in the accident after becoming tangled in fishing gear and then falling overboard. He was the only one involved in the incident, which occurred on the Ruth R fishing vessel.
The fishing boat and her crew were about 15 miles from the coast when the accident happened. The fishing gear got caught in the boat’s propeller and Van Ronk was then caught in the fishing gear. The force of the gear in the propeller pulled him overboard. The Coast Guard was called into search for him. They found him about 200 yards away from the boat, but he was unresponsive and was declared dead later that day at the St. Joseph Hospital.
Fishing Overboard Accidents Not Uncommon
The recent incident is tragic, but it is not that uncommon. Falling overboard is a serious risk of commercial fishing. Falls may be caused by tangled gear, as was the case with Van Ronk, but they may also be the result of a collision with another boat or even a whale, rough water and weather, improper use of fishing gear, and lack of safety gear. These accidents can become tragic when the person is not wearing safety gear or when the crew is not trained to spring into action to rescue the man overboard.
Most of these falls are tragic accidents that could have been prevented. In another recent incident a fisherman fell overboard and drowned after he caught his leg on the anchor rope. If the rope had been kept properly, the accident might not have happened. Strong tides and darkness made the search for the man difficult and his body was not found until it was too late.
Maritime Rights for Commercial Fishermen
If you work as a commercial fisherman, these types of accidents may happen to you on the job. You need to know that you have rights if you are injured on the job, and that your family has rights if you are killed on the job. There are maritime laws that apply to fishermen, such as the Jones Act, that allow you or your family to seek compensation if your employer can be found negligent in the incident. This may be the case if you were not trained correctly, if your equipment had not been maintained, or if you were not given the right safety gear. If you are hurt while on the job, or if you lost a loved one to this type of accident, contact a maritime lawyer to help you figure out what your rights are.