Embattled Fishing Company sold to other seafood companies, but investigation continues for sunken trawler

After more than 30 years in the seafood industry, the Fishing Company of Alaska was bought out last month, ending its long and often difficult presence at the Port of Dutch Harbor.

The company is still under investigation, though, after one of its vessels sank off the Aleutian Islands last summer.

Lt. James Daugherty said the U.S. Coast Guard’s probe has gone on, regardless of the sale.

“We’re concerned with why the Alaska Juris sank,” Daugherty said. “There are bigger questions than what happens with the company — like industry standards or Coast Guard standards — so we continue on as is.”

That means reviewing maintenance records and inspection logs for the Juris, which took on water in July and forced 46 crew members to abandon ship in the Bering Sea.

All were rescued safely. Daugherty said many have since given valuable testimony about what happened that day.

“Several crew members testified there was water billowing up on the starboard side of the engine room, coming from under the deck plates,” he said. “The chief engineer talked about the bilge pumps during his testimony, and those are things that we have to consider.”

The Coast Guard also is considering whether company culture played a part in the accident.

Fishing Company of Alaska was held responsible for failing to maintain the Alaska Spirit, which caught fire in 1995. The company also lost five crew members when another boat — the Alaska Ranger — sank in 2008.

Now, the company’s surviving vessels will continue to fish under new ownership.

Ocean Peace has purchased two of FCA’s three factory trawlers — the Alaska Victory and the Alaska Warrior — while the O’Hara Corporation has acquired the Alaska Spirit.

All of the boats come with quota for Pacific Ocean perch, Atka mackerel and sole.

Neither buyer has shared the price of the sale, but Ocean Peace CEO Michael Faris said they’d been thinking about it for six years and working toward it since last February.

Faris said he’s very happy the Victory already is fishing in Alaska waters, with most of its original crew.

“We did put some of our people onboard in the wheelhouse and other management places to get things, let’s say, up to par with the way we’re comfortable having them,” he said.

Ocean Peace also is upgrading the vessels themselves. The Warrior is being tweaked in Ketchikan before it begins fishing next month, and the company will replace the factories on both trawlers this summer.

“We just have to use the vessels are see where upgrades are needed,” Faris said. “I think a lot of money will be going into each of these vessels to get them to the place where we’re real comfortable with them.”

Meanwhile, officials with the O’Hara Corporation said their purchase came to them in good condition.

The new owners made a few minor adjustments to the Alaska Spirit, but they haven’t planned any extensive upgrades yet.

The Spirit already is out fishing with its original crew.

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