Pre-trial hearing on Cabana case postponed

Coast Guard found plaintiff had some culpability in incident

A fourth pre-trial conference at the Cordova Courthouse involving charges of assault, serious injury and use of a weapon in the collision of two commercial fishing vessels in Prince William Sound in August 2016 has been continued from Feb. 6 to April 17.

Meanwhile attorneys for both sides in a related federal court case confirmed on Feb. 13 that a settlement was reached and dismissal of that case was pending. Due to an agreement of confidentiality on the settlement, attorneys for plaintiffs and defendants declined comment.

Initial charges were filed on May 24, 2017 by the Alaska Office of Special Prosecutions against Kami Cabana of Girdwood, Alaska, skipper of the F/V Chugach Pearl.

The case involves an incident in which the salmon seiner F/V Temptation, owned by Herbert and Barbara Jensen of Cordova, was allegedly struck by two other fishing vessels, and crewmember Gerald Cunningham suffered serious injuries.

At the time of the incident, Jason Long of Cordova, a plaintiff in the case, was the master aboard the F/V Temptation. According to correspondence of Oct. 26, 2017 from the U.S. Coast Guard to Long’s legal counsel in Seattle, Long was fined $1,300 after the Coast Guard found that he failed to avoid crossing in front of the other vessels. Long’s legal counsel said the fine was appealed and that as of Feb. 14 a decision on the appeal was still pending.

The Coast Guard found that on Aug. 16, 2016 that Long observed a school of salmon in Hidden Bay and when an opening of about 150 feet occurred between the F/V Chugach Pearl and another vessel, the F/V Silver Steak, he maneuvered the F/V Temptation to pass between the two vessels before the gap closed. The other two vessels were standing still at the time, with the F/V Chugach Pearl off to the port side and the F/V Silver Streak to the starboard side of the F/V Temptation.

According to video introduced into evidence, the F/V Temptation dramatically increased its speed about 12 seconds before the collision with the F/V Chugach Pearl and the F/V Silver Streak, the Coast Guard hearing officer noted.

The fact that the F/V Silver Streak and F/V Chugach Pearl both inappropriately ‘throttled up in a pinching maneuver’ in an effort to block the F/V Temptation from getting into the bay was not disputed and captains of both of those vessels were found culpable in the collision, but those actions did not absolve Long in his responsibility to follow navigation rules that may have prevented the collision, the hearing officer said.

In fact, at no time during the 12 seconds before the collision did the F/V Temptation further increase or decrease its speed to avoid a potential collision, the Coast Guard said.

Cabana’s attorney, Patrick Bergt of the Anchorage law firm Guess and Rudd, said he expects to introduce expert testimony from Brian Swindahl, chief executive officer of Modutech Marine, of Tacoma, WA., who built the vessel that Cabana was skippering for the U.S. Navy and modified it for commercial fishing. Swindhal noted that the top speed light ship for the vessel is eight knots, and with the current configuration and loaded the top speed is seven knots, Bergt said. Swindahl also said that because of the vessel’s weight and limited horsepower, approximately 2,500 feet of water is needed to get to top speed from all stop to full steam ahead, Bergt said.