The Bristol Bay Times

Crew member on factory trawler dies after possible ammonia exposure on board

A crew member on an American Seafoods factory trawler died at sea last week, likely from an ammonia leak on board.

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class John Highwater said they received a satellite call from the Northern Eagle at about 4:30 a.m. Aug. 18.

“One of their crew members was found unresponsive in one of their engineering spaces,” Highwater said. “They believe there was an ammonia leak somewhere in the vessel that caused the person to fall unconscious.”

The nearly 350-foot vessel was already en route to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor when they made the call to the Coast Guard.

Highwater said it would have taken Coast Guard crew longer to reach the vessel than for the trawler to head to port.

They reached Unalaska around 5 a.m. Aug. 19 — roughly 24 hours after the distress call.

From there, the case was turned over to local responders.


“The fire department, along with NOAA, the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment and the Alaska State Troopers boarded the vessel around 6 a.m., once they were all tied up, and began the investigation into the incident,” said Unalaska Fire Chief Ben Knowles.

He said the crew member was pronounced dead prior to arriving at port. The Unalaska Fire Department assisted the State Troopers with their investigation, provided decontamination and offered grief counseling for the vessel, according to Knowles.

“We were able to hold some listening sessions and just kind of make sure that the crew members were able to have someone to talk to,” he said.

American Seafoods brought the family of the deceased crew member to the island, according to Knowles.

“We are here to offer our services to them,” he said. “And we’re hoping that they can find some healing in this process.”

Knowles said the investigation is ongoing.