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NTSB Determines Uncontrolled, Progressive Flooding Caused Sinking of ALASKA RANGER

Contributing to the loss of life was the vessel's movement astern, which likely accelerated the flooding and caused the life rafts to swing out of reach of many crewmembers.

Washington, DC (September 30 2009): The National Transportation Safety Board determined today that the probable cause of the sinking of the Alaska Ranger was uncontrolled, progressive flooding due to a lack of internal watertight integrity and to a breach of the hull's watertight envelope, likely caused by the physical loss of a rudder. Contributing to the loss of life was the vessel's movement astern, which likely accelerated the flooding and caused the life rafts to swing out of reach of many crewmembers.

On March 22, 2008, the Alaska Ranger, a fish processing vessel, departed Dutch Harbor, Alaska, bound for Petrel Bank, a fishing ground 500 nautical miles away. About 0230 the next morning, the vessel began taking on water in the rudder room. After two hours, the crew abandoned the vessel, which sank shortly afterwards. The Alaska Ranger sank in the Bering Sea, 120 nautical miles west of Dutch Harbor. Five of the 47 people on board died, including one crewmember who was never located. The wreckage lies at the bottom of the Bering Sea and was not examined.

The Ranger was built in 1973 and operated as an offshore supply vessel in the petroleum industry. In 1987, the vessel was purchased by Fishing Company of Alaska, renamed the Alaska Ranger, and converted to serve in the fishing trade.

Most commercial fishing vessels are exempt from U. S. Coast Guard inspection by law and must comply with only minimal safety requirements for lifesaving and fire protection equipment. The Alaska Ranger was part of a group of vessels enrolled in a Coast Guard safety program called the Alternate Compliance and Safety Agreement, which subjected vessels to more than the minimal safety requirements. The Alaska Ranger was enrolled in the program but had not yet met all requirements at the time of the sinking.

"Because commercial fishermen are involved in one of the most dangerous professions in the world, it is essential that the vessels they work on be subject to mandatory safety inspections," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman.

As a result of the Alaska Ranger accident, the NTSB made recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and the Fishing Company of Alaska regarding the inspection of commercial fishing vessels, vessel replacement, and drug and alcohol policies.

A summary of the findings of the Board's report is available on the NTSB's website by clicking HERE.