Earlier this month, I blogged about a fatal accident involving a barge and fishing boat in Tennessee that killed two fishermen. The barge in that accident belonged to a company in Louisiana, called Seredino Inc. That accident was not the first involving the Chattanooga-based company. In June 2009, another man was killed in a similar accident involving a Seredino barge and a fishing boat. A former employee of Seredino alleges that he was fired for refusing to remain silent about illegal activities that endangered the safety of the public. According to Kelly O'Connor, a former licensed boat pilot for Seredino, he repeatedly complained to his superiors at the company that Seredino was violating safety laws by making crewmembers work for more than 12 hours at a stretch. He made several complaints to his superiors, but all of these were ignored. In fact, he was told in no uncertain terms that his complaints were not welcome. According to his lawsuit, he was told to be quiet about the violations of the 12 hour shift rule, and to keep working these long shifts if he wanted to keep his job. He also informed his superiors that they needed to perform more drug tests on crewmembers because of the established practice of crew members drinking and smoking marijuana while on the vessel. Those complaints went unattended too. His lawsuit doesn't mention any dollar amounts in compensation, but he is seeking back pay and punitive damages. Obviously, the allegations that O'Connor makes are serious, and they could provide investigators who are looking at the causes of the Tennessee barge-fishing boat collision, new clues. The tugboat crewmembers in that accident had insisted that they never saw the fishing boat that was in their path. As a result, the tug plowed through the fishing boat, splitting it, and trapping three fishermen underneath. Two of them died while one survived. Working beyond your work hour rules contributes to operator fatigue, which seriously increases a crewmember's risk of being involved in a maritime accident. . O'Connor needs to be commended for coming out openly about the illegal and unsafe practices at his former employer. Maritime lawyer Brian Beckcom is a Board-Certified Trial Lawyer whose primary focus is the representation of Jones Act seamen, including tankermen, galley hands, deckhands, cruise line crews, fishing vessel crew members, offshore workers and other maritime workers in accidents in Texas, across the country and international waters.
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