U.S. Coast Guard Busts Another Tuna Boat for Jones Act Violations

Image courtesy USCG

Published Oct 28, 2022 5:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Coast Guard has busted another Jones Act tuna boat for using an American "paper captain" as a front for a foreign master. 

On October 19, a Coast Guard Sector Columbia River team inspected an 89-foot fishing vessel and found that the vessel was in fact captained by a foreigner, a violation of the Jones Act. The captain listed on paper was an American citizen, but in reality he served as a subordinate on board.

Under the Jones Act (46 USC §12131), a documented vessel must be under the command of a U.S. citizen.

According to the Coast Guard, many U.S. fishing vessel operators have engaged in a pattern and practice of hiring foreigners in the capacity of captain, while U.S. nationals identified as captains on paper serve beneath them. The practice is often accompanied by fraudulent documents designed to avoid detection and mask the illegal operation.

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

In addition to a violation of the Jones Act, the inspection team found that the vessel had several safety violations, like degraded immersion suits, an inoperable EPIRB hydrostatic release, and a failure to conduct safety drills.

The Coast Guard issued a Notice of Violation for $3,000, and the vessel's certificate of documentation will be rescinded following an administrative process for violating the Jones Act.

Since 2020, the Coast Guard has detected a total of 10 "paper captain" violations, mainly in the tuna fleets that operate in the Pacific, resulting in about $40,000 in fines.