ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Waterproof radios, and on-line job and cold-water survival training are among the safety measures planned for clam diggers hired by an Oregon-based company after five contract workers died when their skiff overloaded in the frigid waters of Cook Inlet, it said Tuesday.
Some of the measures can be instituted immediately and some others will be required before the start of the clam digging season next May, said Shannon McCarthy, speaking on behalf of Pacific Alaska Shellfish, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pacific Seafood Group in Clackamas, Ore.
The company is working on a plan with the U.S. Coast Guard following last week's deaths near Polly Creek, the first deaths in the company's 70-year history, McCarthy said.
"This is devastating for this company," she said.
McCarthy said the company to her knowledge met every safety requirement related to the operation and the additional safety measures go beyond what is required.
Seven clam diggers remain on the job near Polly Creek on the western side of Cook Inlet. Following last week's accident, some chose to leave. The company contracted with 23 people to dig clams beginning in early May for about three months.
McCarthy said the clam diggers will be supplied with waterproof marine VHF radios to be carried in each of the company's five skiffs used in the clam digging operation. The workers remaining on the job won't be allowed to use the skiffs until the radios have arrived and they've been instructed how to use them, she said.
They also will receive cold water survival training to be provided by the Coast Guard. Those hired next year will have to complete the training before the season starts, McCarthy said.
The company also will provide on-line job training to its contract workers. It already is provided for employees. A specific program for the contracted clam diggers is being developed.
McCarthy provided The Associated Press with copies of three state-issued documents each clam digger was required to have to do the work. They were provided after questions were raised about whether the clam diggers were properly permitted and licensed and the names provided by the medical examiner's office to Alaska State Troopers differed from those on the state-issued documents.
McCarthy said the five clam diggers had the necessary documents. "We don't know why there is a discrepancy in the names," she said.
The company relies on the state to verify if the applicants are either U.S. citizens or have permanent residence cards before issuing the permits, McCarthy said.
The workers who died when the overloaded skiff swamped were: Roberto Ramirez, 42, whose hometown hasn't been determined; Jose A. Sandoval, 34, of Bakersfield, Calif.; Avelino Garcia, 36, of Oregon; Jose Rivera, 24, of Los Angeles; and Ramon Valdiva, 31, of Oregon.
Only one of the names of the dead is the same as those on documents issued by the Department of Environmental Conservation's Division of Environmental Health, Food Safety and Sanitation Program; the Department of Fish and Game's Division of Commercial Fisheries; and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
One person has the same last name but a different first name, and the other three are completely different.
The permits are issued by the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, said Michelle Kaelke, Fish and Game's finance and licensing supervisor. Yvonne Fink, the commission's licensing project leader was out of the office and unavailable for comment.
The permits issued by the commission are used to keep track of how many people are participating in the fishery, said Pat Shields, an assistant area management biologist for Fish and Game's Division of Commercial Fisheries who manages the fishery. Permitted clam diggers are allowed to harvest between 350,000 and 400,000 pounds of razor clams.
"We have not requested photo IDs of the folks to verify that they are who they say they are," he said.