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Captain’s Negligence Caused Fatalities in 2019 Fishing Boat Accident

By Injury at Sea

On January 8, 2019, commercial fisherman and deckhand Joshua Porter went to work, scared of entering a dangerous storm off the coast of Oregon. That day, the entire crew drowned after the boat overturned in an unsuccessful attempt to sail through the Yaquina Bay Bar. 

Now, over five years later, the U.S. Coast Guard’s investigation has determined that these deaths were preventable and were caused by leadership negligence. 

The U.S. Coast Guard stated that the accident was, predominantly, the fault of the 50-year-old captain of the ship, Stephen Biernacki. The captain frequently dismissed the advice of experienced sailors, was inexperienced with the bay’s hazards, and was also high on methamphetamine at the time of the accident. 


After the accident, Porter’s family was awarded $209,000 by the boat’s insurance company in compensation for his death. Injury at Sea sends its deepest condolences to Porter’s family and the families and friends of all those lost at sea in this tragic accident. 

U.S. drug and alcohol tests are now required for captains of large commercial fishing vessels, but unfortunately, there are still loose requirements for being a captain of a smaller fishing vessel.

Loose Fishing Boat Requirements

In the United States, anyone can be a captain on fishing vessels, except for on large fishing boats, as there are no licenses or certifications required for smaller fishing boats. While this allows for entrepreneurial freedom, it also can harm those who work on smaller boating vessels when there is no competency and knowledge required to captain a boat. 

This lack of licensing gives free rein to anyone who owns a fishing vessel, and unqualified captains like Biernacki are able to lead a crew to sea, potentially putting others in danger.

Contact an Experienced Maritime Injury Attorney Today

Accidents are preventable, and it is important to speak up at work if you believe that your safety is on the line. If you or a loved one has been hurt at sea, it is recommended to speak to a maritime injury lawyer. 

Injury at Sea is led by Jim Gooding and Matt Cole. Jim has been practicing personal injury law for over 30 years and has consistently been recognized for his legal work. Jim can be reached at Matt has over 15 years of experience working in the commercial fishing industry, and he understands the dangers that maritime workers face at sea. Recognized as a Rising Star Lawyer, he now seeks to represent workers who have been injured at sea. Matt can be reached at

Our firm is headquartered in Seattle and represents clients located in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and California.  Call us today at 1-800-SEA-SALT for a free consultation.


The information contained in this update is provided for informational purposes only. Please contact your attorney to obtain advice on any particular legal matter.

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