ANCHORAGE (CN) – Five Mexican clammers died, leaving five widows and 10 little children, because an Alaskan shellfish company dropped them in remote areas without proper equipment or training, the families claim in Federal Court.
The families sued Pacific Alaska Shellfish, Dulcich Inc. and their president Frank D. Dulcich, claiming the defendants failed to give the workers proper equipment and instruction on piloting skifts in Arctic waters, which caused their deaths when their skift capsized.
The defendants procure, process and sell Alaskan shellfish.
According to the complaint, one of Pacific Alaska Shellfish’s agents hired Roberto Ramirez-Pacheco, Avelino Garcia Oropeza, Ramon Valdivia Isiordia, Jose Angel Sandoval and Jose Geraldo Rivera Sandoval, all of whom are deceased.
In May 2011, the five men were flown to remote beaches in Cook Inlet in Alaska’s south-central coast to harvest clams. Under the alleged supervision of company employees, the men were divided into teams to man boats aka skifts to selected beach sites on the Inlet waters, to harvest and sack clams, and take the loaded skifts back to camp, according to the complaint.
The men were to be paid by the pound for the clams they harvested, according to the complaint.
Although the men had lifejackets, they had no two-way radios or survival suits, the complaint states. “The lack of survivor suits and two way radios essentially assured any trouble with the skift in open ocean resulting in capsize would result in fatalities,” it states.
According to the complaint: “The equipment provided aboard the skifts was inadequate for the use and dangers involved in the work. Survival suits were not among the provided gear, although Pacific Alaska Shellfish Inc., officials were well aware that given the temperature of the waters of Cook Inlet, life jackets provided little protection if the skifts capsized or sunk at any appreciable distance from shore.
“None of the decedents or any other men recruited for this work were given instruction in piloting skifts in ocean waters with or without cargo on board, water safety rules applicable to Alaska waters, swimming lessons, life saving lessons or the proper loading limitations of the skifts with men and clams aboard.
“On May 17, following a day of clam digging at a remote beach site selected by Pacific Alaska Shellfish Inc. personnel, the decedents attempted to return to the remote camp site with a load of clams harvested at the remote beach site. On the way back the skift capsized and the decedents all went into the water and died of either from [sic[ drowning or hypothermia. There were no survivors.”
The men are survived by their wives and 10 minor children, one of them born just 13 days before her father died, according to the complaint.
“Pacific Alaska Shellfish Inc. was negligent in providing inadequate instruction and supervision to the decedents given the perils of sea their assigned work entailed,” the complaint states. “The skifts did not have loan lines on the hull, nor were the decedents given instruction on how many clams they could transport safely along with the men, nor other elements of water safety which were important in operating a skift under the conditions of the intended use of the skifts.”
The families add that Cook Inlet is known for “suddenly-appearing large waves and swells,” and that mere life jackets could not have saved their lives in the cold temperatures.
The plaintiffs seek punitive damages under the Jones Act, the Longshoremen and Harborworkers Act, for unseaworthiness, wrongful death, and for Alaska Workers Compensation Act violations, because the defendants allegedly did not secure workers compensation insurance.
They are represented by Michael Flanigan with Flanigan Bataille.