Coast Guard probes Island mariner’s account of fiasco at sea
November 17, 2009 · Updated 1:00 PM
An Islander who captained a Korean-operated fishing vessel in the South Pacific this summer returned from his three-month odyssey armed with accusations that his crew had broken international law.
Doug Pine, a former Washington State Ferries crew member, has taken his nightmarish account to the U.S. Coast Guard, which is now investigating possible pollution and criminal violations. Pine also plans to travel to Washington D.C. next month to share his sordid story with members of Congress, and he’ll informally present the account at upcoming local maritime conferences.
Pine has started a blog about his experience as well, and at least one news organization — Lloyd’s List, a leading maritime newspaper — has carried an account of the event.
Pine’s is a tale of mutiny on the high seas, flagrant environmental violations and human rights abuses.
In an interview with The Beachcomber, Pine said he accepted a position as captain of the Korean-managed ship this summer because he was desperate for work. He knew little about his duties or the company he’d be working for when he traveled to the Solomon Islands to take command of the Majestic Blue fishing vessel.
His experience aboard the purse seiner was shocking, he said, which is why he’s now on a crusade to raise awareness about what he thinks could be a common occurrence on the high seas.
Onboard the Majestic Blue, Pine was assaulted, saw crew members beaten and watched as hundreds of pounds of plastic waste were tossed into the ocean, he said.
Pine served from July to October on the Majestic Blue — a 187-foot vessel that’s operated by a Korean company but is officially considered American and therefore needs an American captain. The company that operates the tuna fishing vessel — Korea’s Dongwon Corporation — did not respond to a request for comment.
The Majestic Blue’s officers were Korean; its deck hands were Korean, Indonesian and Filipino, Pine said. The different groups didn’t always get along.
Pine tried to learn Korean with little success, he said. The cultural and linguistic differences between Pine and his crew were vast, as evidenced by an experience that took place on one of Pine’s first days aboard the Majestic Blue.
“I was sitting in my chair up on the bridge, and my assistant officer, a 23-year-old kid from Indonesia, was standing at the helm,” said Pine, a longtime maritime officer who’s worked for Washington State Ferries, the Pacific Maritime Institute and Crowley Tugs.
Pine watched in shock, he said, as the vessel’s chief engineer, a Korean, walked up to the assistant and punched and kicked him — for no apparent reason.
“The assistant officer brushed himself off, planted himself back at the helm, looked over at me and shrugged and smiled,” Pine said.
Apparently, violence from ship officers to their crew was nothing new to the young man. Pine found that out first-hand a few days later when an insubordinate fishing master on the ship slapped and pushed Pine away from the ship’s radar, instructing him not to touch the radar instrument, he said.
Pine quickly posted “standing orders” at different locations on the ship, outlining that verbal and physical abuse would not be permitted aboard the Majestic Blue.
After that, he didn’t see abuse firsthand, though he’s unsure if it continued to take place, he said.
Pine also witnessed several incidents of purposeful pollution.
Every time the crew had any plastic waste — from ramen wrappers to bottles to damaged fishing nets — they threw it overboard into the South Pacific, Pine said.
“It’s disgusting — it’s such an insult to the ocean and to nature,” he said. “Plastic is an abomination in the ocean, and to see them treat it with such a cavalier and deliberate attitude right in front of me was appalling.”
He repeatedly told the men to dispose of plastic waste in the ship’s containment barrels, but they refused to listen, Pine said.
He’s taken these claims to the Coast Guard, which is examining evidence and building a case about the possible pollution violations. Ocean waste — including a floating junkyard of plastic said to be twice the size of Texas — is a mounting problem that has garnered considerable international attention in recent months.
“We are investigating allegations aboard the vessel, both criminal and pollution violations,” said Coast Guard Lieutenant John Titchen. “It’s Coast Guard policy that we not disclose what the specific allegations are, but many concern MARPOL laws.”
MARPOL is the international set of regulations intended for the prevention of pollution from ships — regulations the crew on the Majestic Blue completely disregarded, according to Pine.
“Allegations of MARPOL violations are taken very, very seriously,” Titchen said. “They could result in fines or penalties of some kind.”
One allegation Titchen couldn’t confirm or deny was that of mutiny. Pine said he’s accused three of his crew members and the company that operates Majestic Blue of mutiny. Their insubordinate behavior met the definition of mutiny five times over, he said.
“I’ve officially accused the fishing master, the chief engineer and the second officer and an executive of the Dongwon Corporation of mutiny,” Pine said.
It is the first time, he said, a U.S. shipmaster has alleged crew mutiny since the Vietnam War.
Today, Pine said, he’s working to spread the word about the injustices done to the environment and to crew members aboard the Majestic Blue.
“I got into fishing because of the economy,” Pine said. “I didn’t know a thing about the company, and I had no experience in the fishing industry. ... My company said there are cultural issues you’re going to have to adapt to. What I didn’t know is that was code for, ‘Get here, sit down and shut up.’”
He’s choosing, he said, to speak out instead. He plans to return to work at the Pacific Maritime Institute soon.
“I am trying as hard as I can to spread the word about the abuses being suffered by my crew members,” he said. “That is my new job.”