Coast Guard interdicting use of “paper captains”

The most recent violation occurred in October in Sector Columbia River.

A Coast Guard law enforcement team operating in Coast Guard Sector Columbia River inspecting a commercial fishing vessel cited the vessel’s crew for operating with what’s known as a “paper captain.”

The practice of having a paper captain involves having a U.S. citizen listed on the documents as the vessel’s captain so as to be within the regulations of the Jones Act, while a foreign national is actually in charge of the vessel, according to a news release.

“The employment of a foreign national as captain aboard a U.S.-flagged commercial fishing vessel is illegal,” said Lt. Cmdr. Colin Fogarty, the enforcement chief at Coast Guard Sector Columbia River in a news release. “The practice of utilizing paper captains subverts U.S. laws and regulations designed to protect hard-working American fishermen and mariners.”

Sector Columbia River is a busy region for such violations of the Jones Act, a 1920 law intended to protect the American shipping, shipbuilding and other maritime industries. Sector Columbia River has cited 10 paper captain-type violations in the last three years, Fogarty said.

“The practice of hiring a ‘paper captain’ is a subversion of U.S law, specifically the Jones Act. The law exists to protect U.S. jobs in the competitive world of commercial fishing and maritime commerce,” Fogarty said in an email. “Specifically, the law requires that commercial fishing vessels to be captained (or mastered) by a U.S. citizen. This law ensures that U.S. flagged vessels support hard working American mariners.”

The 89-foot fishing vessel inspected on Oct. 19 and found to be in violation of the Jones Act also had a number of other safety and regulatory violations, Fogarty said, including degraded survival suits, a nonfunctional emergency radio beacon release and lack of proficiency in safety drills.

“‘Paper captains’ are most often utilized to save money. In the Coast Guard’s analysis of crew contracts, foreign crewmembers are paid substantially less than U.S. nationals,” Fogarty said. “Thus, vessels and aggregated fishing fleets (i.e. many fishing vessels owned/operated/managed by a single person or commercial entity) save money by hiring foreign nationals.”

The vessel was fined $3,000 and the process to rescind the vessel’s certificate of documentation is underway, Fogarty said. Sector Columbia has issued nearly $40,000 in fines for paper captain-related violations in the last three years.

Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or