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907-331-3549 Anchorage, Alaska Personal Injury Law Firm
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Families of missing crab boat crew begin the resolution process

Commercial fishing is a big industry in Alaska, but it comes at a price. Even the most experienced crab fisher cannot prevent malfunctioning equipment or storms on the high seas that turn deadly. When vessels are not maintained properly, it can cause major problems for everyone on board.

Last month, a crabbing boat went missing in the Bering Sea. It is believed the vessel sank, but no bodies have been recovered. There were six men in the crew. Without bodies, the families could not get death certificates to resolve issues with the estates and get survivors' benefits. Lawyers had to get involved to find solutions.

To settle the issue of death, the families went to the court system and asked for a presumptive death hearing to have their missing loved ones declared dead. The procedure is relatively rare in Alaska; only 20 presumptive death hearings were held last year. During the hearing, evidence is presented to the judge and jury. The jury listens to the evidence and weighs in during deliberations to decide if the person or persons should be declared dead. In this case, the jury did so. The judge then ordered death certificates to be completed.

What happened to the men?

Although the hearing resolved the issue of death to allow the families to move forward, it did not resolve the issue of what actually happened to the men or to the boat. It may take months to find the answers, but the U.S. Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board are just two of the agencies involved in the investigation. Sadly, unless the boat is recovered, there may never be answers.

Maritime claims are different than onshore claims

Whether these families pursue wrongful death claims depends on many factors, many of which are not presently known. A maritime death claim is a little different than wrongful death acts which occur onshore. If an accident occurs at least three nautical miles away from the shore and the fatalities occur due to the ship's unseaworthiness, then the claim could fall under a federal statute called the "Death on the High Seas Act."

DOHSA limits what families can receive if their loved one dies out on the ocean. If you or a loved one has been injured or even died in a maritime accident, you should consider speaking to an attorney about your situation. You need to understand your rights after a death or accident at sea to receive the compensation deserved for the claim. 

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