Too many fishermen die on the job. The deaths of five more in the sinking of the Alaska Ranger in the Bering Sea in 2008 drove home that truth once again, and for the fourth time after a fatal accident, the National Transportation Safety Board has said Congress should give the Coast Guard the power to do mandatory inspections of commercial fishing vessels.
That authority is long past due.
The Coast Guard already inspects commercial fishing vessels that work Alaska waters -- but the inspections are voluntary. It's a good program, one that checks on seaworthiness of vessels and lifesaving gear and training. It's raised the level of safety in the fleet and helped reduce the death rate by 42 percent since the early 1990s, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
But the NTSB's Alaska Ranger investigation found flaws in the voluntary program. Inspectors didn't catch the fact that three engineers didn't have required licensing and missed problems with the hull. How much these oversights contributed to the sinking, or if they did at all, isn't clear.
The numbers are clear and grim, however. Despite increased education and attention to safety, fishermen working Alaska waters are still 26 times more likely to die on the job than other U.S. workers. From 1990 to 2008, 346 commercial fishermen died on the job in Alaska.
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