A $9 million settlement will be paid to survivors and families of those lost at sea last New Year's Eve after a Dutch Harbor fishing vessel sank off the Alaska Peninsula.
The company that owned the fishing vessel Scandies Rose will pay out from its insurance policy to the families of four deceased fishermen and two survivors that worked on the 130-foot crab boat.
Earlier this year, attorneys for the survivors and families of deceased crewmates filed claims on their behalf, alleging that the Scandies Rose went down because it wasn't seaworthy for the freezing conditions at sea when it left Kodiak and that they were entitled to damages.
"They carried a full load of pots and proceeded into some known icing conditions, which we feel was a major cause of the accident," said Jerry Markham, a Kodiak attorney who represents the families of three of the deceased.
But neither side is seeking to formally cast blame in court now that a cash settlement has been reached.
"This takes care of everyone's claims against the vessel," said Mike Barcott, a Seattle-based attorney representing the vessel owners, Scandies Rose Fishing Company and Mattsen Management.
How the settlement will be divided between the survivors and families of the deceased will likely be done in private, either through mediation or arbitration, he added.
Captain Gary Cobban Jr., of Kodiak, owned a stake in the Scandies Rose. He and his son perished when the vessel sank during a storm while on its way to the Bering Sea for Pacific cod and crab.
Barcott said the skipper's next-of-kin is not part of this arrangement; his family will be receiving a separate settlement through insurance.
The settlement ends litigation that was headed to trial next spring in Washington state. That means assigning blame for the tragedy will not be decided in a courtroom.
"The trial would have decided if the vessel and her owners had been negligent in some way," Barcott said. "It would not have divided up the verdict among the parties. This was just a 'who's responsible' trial. And now that's not necessary."
But some of the questions raised in the lawsuit may be addressed during a formal inquiry by the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation. It's slated to begin hearings into the incident on Feb. 22 in Seattle.
Barcott said the majority of maritime claims that involve lost ships end in a cash settlement. Trials, he said, rarely bring closure.
"Trials in an incident like this are wrought with emotions, and 99 percent of these cases involving vessel sinkings settle," Barcott said. "The question is always how much is the settlement. The owners thought this was a terrific vessel, they thought Gary Cobban was a terrific skipper, and to vindicate themselves, they would have liked to have gone to trial. But they also understand there are some estates that are grieving, and it's frankly better for everyone not to go through the process of the trial. It's really hard to go through a trial like this. It's hard on everybody."
Jerry Markham, the Kodiak attorney who says he's handled more than a dozen similar cases, echoed that sentiment.
"I think the families are relieved that they don't have to go to court and cast stones on all the reasons why the accident happened," Markham said. "It's part of fishing; vessels sink. It's [the responsibility] of vessel owners to keep them safe, and not put them in the position of having that happen."
One of the crew members' next-of-kin is a minor. The court will need to approve that portion of the settlement by determining it's in the best interests of the child, Barcott said.
"Under maritime law, when a seaman dies, one of the claims that can be made is on behalf of their child who has lost the support of that parent. And that's the situation here," he said.
The four deceased crew members who will receive a portion of the settlement awarded this week are the captain's son, David Lee Cobban, of Kodiak; Brock Rainey, Art Ganacias and Seth Rousseau-Gano. The two survivors sharing in the settlement are Dean Gribble and Jon Lawler.
The $9 million settlement will be paid by insurance, Barcott said.
"It's how much insurance they had," he added.