Alaska Trawler Ordered Seized In Back-Pay Dispute
ANCHORAGE - A federal magistrate has ordered two factory trawlers seized as part of a legal suit involving 12 former crew members seeking $3 million in damages over a back-pay dispute.
The Alaskan Hero and the Arctic Hero, owned by AKC Corp. in Seattle, are anchored off Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians.
The seizures are intended to secure the claims of the crewmen, who filed suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Anchorage. They are seeking $1.2 million in unpaid wages, medical bills and other damages and they want $2 million in punitive damages.
Charles Ray, an attorney representing the crew, said the ships would be held until AKC posts bond to cover possible damage awards.
If the company fails to post bond, then the crew has the option of selling the ships to pay off claims. A former skipper said the vessels may be worth $17.5 million.
AKC is controlled by Masami Aizawa, a Japanese shipping magnate convicted in his home country of paying bribes to win election to the lower house of Japan's parliament. He was arrested earlier this month in California on an extradition warrant and is now free after posting a $25,000 bond.
Aizawa could not be reached for comment, nor could reporters reach AKC executives at the company's Seattle office.
The crewmen's lawsuit covers a period from June 1989 to last month, when a riot erupted aboard the Arctic Hero. The crew labored in a North Pacific bottom-fish industry where federal minimum-wage and worker-compensation laws don't apply, and federal occupational-safety officials rarely venture.
Ray and other attorneys involved in the case have declined to discuss many of the other details of the crewmen's plight.
But the attorneys' 26-page civil complaint, and interviews with a former AKC skipper, offer glimpses of shipboard life with a fishing company that often didn't make good on wages and failed to provide prompt medical treatment for injuries.
Eleven of the dozen crewmen in the lawsuit claimed to have been injured. Examples cited:
-- Leo Caro's foot was smashed by an 80-pound box of fish. Caro alleges he didn't receive adequate medical care and hasn't been able to go back to work.
-- Mario Marzo fell down the stairs of the Arctic Hero and suffered a severe back injury that has kept him out of work for nearly six months.
-- Sung Pak was seriously injured when his left foot was pulled into a conveyor belt. Instead of being evacuated, he was forced to remain aboard the vessel. Without proper medical treatment, he developed gangrene.
Pak and another former crewman of the Alaskan Hero - Gyu Il Wong - said they never were paid for wages earned in June of 1989. Checks were issued for $2,250, but the corporation stopped payment on the checks before they could be cashed.
Shipboard life also was aggravated by what the complaint described as ``vicious crew members with known propensities for violence.''
Robert Romero, a medic hired to treat widespread injuries, said in court papers he was beaten by one of the rogue crew members during the Nov. 16 disturbance. In the melee, started over a rumor that the crew wouldn't be paid, several crewmen went on a rampage, pulling doors off hinges, smashing cabinets and breaking lights and windows.
Two men were arrested and charged with assault.
The complaint also alleges unsafe working conditions that set the stage for many injuries.
Keith Dillon, Arctic Hero skipper at the time of the incident, said some of the problems were caused by a company policy that favored a dangerous procedure known as fishing in the troughs. That meant the ships stayed parallel to the waves during heavy seas. That helped keep the nets down on the bottom where the fishing was best, Dillon said. But it severely compromised vessel stability and caused the boats to rock violently from side to side.
Dillon said he fought against such procedures aboard the Arctic Hero and the Northern Hero, a third AKC boat that he skippered in October.
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