American Seafoods crewmember dies due to suspected on-board ammonia leak

American Seafoods' Northern Eagle.

A crewmember onboard an American Seafoods’ catcher-processor vessel has died from a suspected ammonia leak.

David Kumah, a 43-year-old first engineer from Ghana, was found unresponsive on board the Northern Eagle just past midnight on Friday, 18 August.

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class John Highwater told KUCB an ammonia leak likely killed Kumah.

“One of their crew members was found unresponsive in one of their engineering spaces,” Highwater said. “They believe there was an ammonia leak somewhere in the vessel that caused the person to fall unconscious.”

A satellite call was placed from the vessel to the U.S. Coast Guard at around 4 a.m. on 18 August, and the vessel was told to return to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, as it would have taken longer to send a Coast Guard crew to the Northern Eagle. The vessel arrived in port at 5 a.m. on 19 August, but Kumah had died en route to Dutch Harbor, according to Unalaska Fire Chief Ben Knowles.

“The fire department, along with NOAA, the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment, and the Alaska State Troopers boarded the vessel around 6 a.m., once they were all tied up, and began the investigation into the incident,” Knowles said.

The Coast Guard, Alaska State Troopers and NOAA are jointly investigating the death, and Kumah’s body has been received by the Alaska Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy.

The Unalaska Fire Department assisted with decontamination onboard the vessel.

An American Seafoods spokesperson told SeafoodSource the company is working to provide help to Kumah’s family and his crewmates.

“We’re shocked and saddened at this loss, and are in contact with the family to express our deepest condolences and to provide whatever support we can,” the spokesperson said. “We are also providing grief counseling to crew members and are fully cooperating with local authorities. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family and friends during this difficult time.”

The Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.-based fishing firm, which is currently for sale, is in the process of negotiating a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in regard to civil penalties it received for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act. The company is also preparing to launch its retrofitted American Empress II, formerly the Phoenix, which it purchased from Phoenix Processor Limited Partnership (PPLP) in June 2023.

In July 2023, American Seafoods settled a legal dispute with U.S. Customs and Border Protection for USD 9.5 million (EUR 8.5 million), avoiding over USD 400 million (EUR 359 million) in additional fines levied for its use of a dead-end railway in Canada as means of avoid trading restrictions related to the U.S. Jones Act.

The company has revised its strategic direction under the leadership of CEO Einar Gustafsson, who was appointed in February 2022.

Photo courtesy of American Seafoods


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