Further investigation after a vessel operator declined an October notice of violation issued by the Coast Guard uncovered the operator in question had previous violations of the Jones Act.
The initial fine of $3,000 has been increased to $12,968.50, the calculated average penalty for a repeat violator, said Lt. Cmdr. Colin Fogarty.
“The violator, John D. Gibbs, declined it,” Fogarty said in a phone interview. “When the (notice of violation) is declined, it becomes a civil penalty.”
That civil penalty escalated the proceedings, and Fogarty, as chief of the enforcement division at Sector Columbia River, reviewed the case.
“Mr. Gibbs has two previous Jones Act violations. They occurred in 2010 and were adjudicated in 2011,” Fogarty said. “In both he was given a letter of warning.”
Then, on Oct. 19, just weeks ago, Gibbs was cited once again for the same violation, using a paper captain. A paper captain is when an American national is listed as the master of the vessel to get around the stipulations of the Jones Act requiring an American captain, but in reality, a foreign national is the captain of the boat, saving on costs for the operator.
“It’s cheaper to hire someone from a foreign nation, than to hire a well-trained American citizen,” Fogarty said. “I have very little patience for someone who violates this act when there’s American fishermen sitting on the docks out of work.”
Fogarty said enforcement elements targeted the vessel, the Southern Horizon, because of information gathered.
“Our unit targeted this vessel because of broad intelligence we had,” Fogarty said. “We looked at his vessel. It met the criteria for a vessel that might be using a paper captain. We went onboard, and the captain admitted to being a paper captain.”
Because the requirements of proof for Jones Act violations are stringent, Fogarty said, they asked the paper captain a number of questions relating to safety and operation of the vessel which should be known.
“More than relying on his admission, we ran him through a series of questions. We asked him where the high water alarm was. We asked him to activate the high water alarm. We asked him to deactivate the high water alarm. He did not know how to do so,” Fogarty said. “We have safety concerns here. It’s one of the most important reasons (the Coast Guard) exists.”
The issue of paper captains is especially common here, Fogarty said, with particularly high rates in Westport among highly migratory species fishing vessels, which spend much of the year out of U.S. waters.
“Three years ago, we didn’t know this was a problem. And then we had some very squared junior officers who started noticing,” Fogarty said. “There have been more Jones Act violations in Westport than any other port in the U.S. for the last three years. That’s just that we’ve detected.”
Sector Columbia River has pioneered new ways of looking for these sorts of violations, Fogarty said, which they’re busy disseminating to the rest of the Coast Guard.
“We have encapsulated and documented our lessons learned and we’ve exported this training to Coast Guard training centers, other districts, other units,” Fogarty said. “We’ve exported this knowledge, our training techniques and procedures to units in Guam, Hawaii, Alaska and Southern California.”
For Fogarty, the work exposing operators using paper captains is for the good of American maritime industries.
“I’ve had an opportunity to work with so many of the hardworking men and women who bring seafood back to our great country,” Fogarty said. “I like to think that’s a demonstration that the Coast Guard is turning the screws on operators who think they can violate the Jones Act and leave hardworking fishermen on the piers looking for work.”
Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or email@example.com.