fishing vessel

U.S.-Flagged Fishing Vessel Busted for Use of “Paper Captain”

Mike Schuler
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October 31, 2022

The U.S. Coast Guard busted a Washington State-based tuna fishing vessel for using a “paper captain” in violation of the Jones Act.

A Coast Guard Sector Columbia River law enforcement team inspected the 89-foot fishing vessel on October 19th and determined that the vessel was commanded by an illegal foreign national, even though documentation showed that a U.S. national was at the helm.

Paper captain is a term applied to an individual listed on documents as a U.S.-flagged vessel’s captain, but in actuality serves as a deckhand or in a similar lower-level capacity, the Coast Guard said. According to section 12131 of title 46 of the United States Code, a U.S. documented vessel must be under the command of a U.S. citizen.

The Coast Guard says many fishing vessels have engaged in the practice of hiring foreign nationals to serve on U.S. commercial fishing vessels in the capacity of captain, while U.S. nationals identified as captains on paper serve in subordinate roles. Many of these violations have been supplemented by underlying fraudulent documents designed to avoid detection and mask the illegal operation.

Since 2020, the Coast Guard has detected a total of 10 Paper Captain Violations, primarily in the tuna fleets that operate throughout the Pacific Ocean.

“The employment of a foreign national as captain aboard a U.S.-flagged commercial fishing vessel is illegal,” said Lt. Cmdr. Colin Fogarty. the enforcement chief at Coast Guard Sector Columbia River in Warrenton, Oregon. “The practice of utilizing paper captains subverts U.S. laws and regulations designed to protect hard-working American fishermen and mariners.”

In addition to violating the Jones Act, the vessel had several safety violations including: Degraded immersion suits; an inoperable Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) hydrostatic release; and failure to conduct safety drills.

The Coast Guard issued a Notice of Violation for $3,000.00 and the vessel’s Certificate of Documentation will be rescinded following an administrative process for violating the Jones Act. The Coast Guard did not identify the vessel involved.

Since 2020, Sector Columbia River and sister units have issued nearly $40,000 in fines directly linked to employment of foreign nationals as captains.

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