Families sue over deaths of commercial Inlet clam diggers

Kyle Hopkins

The families of five clam-diggers who died in a boat accident last year in Cook Inlet are now suing the seafood company the men worked for.

The wrongful death suit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court. It claims Pacific Alaska Shellfish failed to train the men to pilot their aluminum skiff and neglected to provide proper safety equipment such as survival suits and two-way radios.

Recruited to harvest razor clams at remote beaches on the west side of the Inlet, none of the men were taught water-safety rules, emergency live-saving lessons or how many pounds of clams the skiff could safely carry, the lawsuit claims.

Pacific Alaska Shellfish is owned by Oregon-based Pacific Seafood Group. A marketing executive said the company had no comment on the lawsuit Monday.

The overloaded skiff swamped May 17 in rough seas, troopers said at the time. The workers had spent much of the day harvesting clams and were motoring back to a fish camp at Polly Creek when they disappeared, troopers said.

A fellow worker told troopers he saw the potential for danger and didn't get in the boat, which was loaded with more than 100 clam buckets in windy conditions, troopers said.

Killed in the accident were: Roberto Ramirez-Pacheco, 42, Jose A. Sandoval, 34, of Bakersfield, Calif.; Avelino Garcia Oropeza, 36, of Oregon; Jose Rivera Sandoval, 24, of Los Angeles; and Ramon Valdivia Isiordia, 31, of Oregon, according to troopers' accounts and the civil lawsuit.

Only one of the dead men was found wearing a life jacket, troopers said. The wrongful death suit claims the workers needed survival suits, not life vests, to survive in the Inlet.

Plaintiffs representing the men's families filed the lawsuit exactly one year after the accident, court records show. All five workers were married with children, the lawsuit says.

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