The owners of the Scandies Rose have reached a settlement of more than $9 million with two surviving crew and the families of four men who died when the Washington-managed crab boat went down Dec. 31 off Alaska.
The agreement was confirmed by Michael Barcott, an attorney representing the Washington and Alaska owners, who said the settlement will be funded by insurance.
Jerry Markham, an attorney for the families of three of the deceased, also confirmed the settlement, and said his clients “are relieved and pleased that the matter is settled.”
A document disclosing the settlement is expected to be filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, according to Barcott.
The agreement will be subject to review in state Superior Court, and how the money will be divided up among survivors and families of the deceased is under discussion, according to Markham.
The case had been scheduled to go to trial next spring before a federal judge in U.S. District Court to determine damages. That trial would have involved an extensive examination of the events surrounding the sinking as attorneys called witnesses and submitted evidence. Now, the federal trial is not expected to happen.
The Scandies Rose went down in the Gulf of Alaska on a stormy New Year’s Eve during a voyage from Kodiak to the Bering Sea to pursue cod and crab. The National Weather Service had forecast freezing spray, which can cause ice to form on a vessel and its pot load. The added weight can severely undermine vessel stability.
An inquiry into the sinking is underway.
A Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation was launched earlier this year. After delays because of the pandemic, public hearings are expected to be held in the Seattle area for a two-week period beginning Feb. 22, with the participation of the National Transportation Safety Board, according to Cmdr. Greg Callaghan, the Coast Guard chair of the board.
“While this is a tragic case, we do have some survivors, and the opportunity to glean some important information from them,” Callaghan said.
The Scandies Rose disaster took the lives of five crew, including the Kodiak, Alaska-based captain Gary Cobban Jr., 60, who was a part owner of the boat and whose family will receive other insurance money and was not part of the settlement, according to Barcott. The other four crew lost were:
David Cobban, 30, who was Gary Cobban Jr.’s son and also lived in Kodiak; Brock Rainey, 47, of Kellogg, Idaho; Art Ganacias, 50, the boat’s engineer who had lived in Sand Point, Alaska, but also many years in the Puget Sound region; and Seth “Sorin” Rousseau-Gano, 31, who lived in the Silverdale area and whose earlier fishing career included Dungeness crabbing off Washington.
The loss of the Scandies Rose was another blow to Alaska crab-fleet crews, who in February 2017 were buffeted by the sinking of the Seattle-based Destination — amid severe icing conditions — with a loss of all six crew.
The two survivors of the Scandies Rose — Dean Gribble Jr., of Edmonds, and Jon Lawler, of Anchorage — told harrowing tales of a severe list that imperiled the vessel. They scrambled to the wheelhouse, donned survival suits and prepared to abandon the rapidly sinking vessel sometime around 10 p.m. Dec. 31. They said a big wave knocked them off the boat.
“I was just floating alone in the dark for a half an hour, getting tossed in those waves … You are so small out there,” Gribble said in an interview last week.
Both Lawler and Gribble eventually made it to a life raft. But their survival suits and the raft had no locator beacons. An emergency light in the raft eventually went out, and they feared they would never be found.
Their ordeal ended sometime before dawn on New Year’s Day, when a swimmer from a Coast Guard helicopter reached them. They were lifted up into the helicopter and flown to safety.
Since the sinking, both Lawler and Gribble say they have struggled with memories of the sinking and those who lost their lives. They have not resumed fishing.
“I’ve been doing some therapy, and trying to get control of my nightmares,” Gribble said. “2020 started horribly in a life raft.”
Last winter, the owners’ insurance paid for a remote operating vehicle to take video images, which have not been made public, of the sunken vessel. Since then, court filings in federal and state courts outline the legal skirmishes between the boat owner and the survivor and families of the deceased over the causes of the vessel’s sinking.
The Scandies Rose owners, in court documents, maintained they exercised “due diligence” to make the vessel seaworthy and fit for service and bore “no fault or negligence.” Thus, under federal maritime law, they contended that their liability was limited to the value of the sunken vessel, which was essentially zero.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys, in their filings, contested the attempt to limit liability. They alleged that the Scandies Rose was not seaworthy when it left Kodiak, and that a reasonable and prudent owner would have known of these risks.
They cited vessel repairs to rusty and decayed steel near a waste-discharge chute that were not tested in sea trials before the Bering Sea departure for Kodiak. A filing on behalf of Gribble, in King County Superior Court, noted that the vessel list was on the starboard side, the same side as where the repair was made.
The plaintiff’s filings also cite the weather forecast that called for serious icing conditions. They say the owners were aware of that prediction, which would have increased the hazards of carrying a load of crab pots to the Bering Sea.
“Claimant makes claims against the owner Scandies Rose Fishing Company LLC
for all damages permissible under the law, including damages for pain and suffering, emotional distress, psychological damage, economic losses, and loss of services,” stated a filing by attorneys representing Gribble.
Callaghan, the chair of the Coast Guard board, said the investigation is exploring a range of issues that could have contributed to the sinking, including the icing conditions’ impact on vessel stability and mechanical or other problems the vessel may have experienced.
The board will examine what pressures the crew were under due to fishing regulations. The cod fishery the Scandies Rose was going to participate in before crabbing is a derby-style opening. That means a late arrival to the fishing grounds can mean fewer days to catch cod, and a smaller payday.
The owners maintain the Scandies Rose was going to fish briefly in the cod opening, and so there was no urgency to get to the Bering Sea. Gribble maintains that the skipper was behind schedule, and anxious to start the cod fishing.
The board also will look at crew training, and how the lifesaving equipment performed.
Gribble thinks his experience demonstrates the need to change some of the rules. One thing on his to-do list is a requirement that all life rafts and survival suits be equipped with locator beacons to help rescuers find crew bobbing in the sea in survival suits or a life raft.
“The technology now is so good,” Gribble said.