Jury Acquits Former Executive in Aleutian Enterprise Sinking
SEATTLE (AP) _ The former chief executive of a fisheries company was cleared of criminal charges in a disaster that killed nine crewmen in the Bering Sea.
The Aleutian Enterprise sank in 1990 after a large net of fish being hauled aboard caused the vessel to list and water rushed in through openings in the hull, the Coast Guard determined.
Francis Miller, who co-founded Arctic Alaska Fisheries Corp. but retired after the ship went down, said the sinking of the 162-foot ship was an accident _ not a crime.
Miller was acquitted Wednesday of nine counts of involuntary manslaughter. The federal jury also found him innocent of charges of conspiracy and making false statements to the Coast Guard.
The disaster resulted in Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board investigations, lawsuits, a grand jury probe and a heightened emphasis on safety in the fishing industry.
The company was owned then and now by Tyson Foods and was the nation’s largest fishing company when the ship sank off the Alaska coast.
Several other company officials also were indicted. Miller, 63, was the first to go to trial. Last May, Arctic Alaska, the Aleutian Enterprise’s captain and five company executives pleaded guilty to charges ranging from negligence to lying to federal officials.
All six testified against Miller. Twelve more people who were granted full or partial immunity also testified against him.
Charges are pending against four other people who had been associated with Arctic Alaska. The government intends to pursue those cases.
Miller said no one should be brought into criminal court. He said the people who pleaded guilty did so because they didn’t have the financial resources to fight charges.
``We felt all along that we had done the best job we knew how _ it was a terrible tragedy,″ Miller said. ``If we could bring all those people back, we would have done anything to do that.″
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Hamilton contended Miller ultimately was responsible for the conditions aboard the Aleutian Enterprise: hull openings, removal of watertight doors, no safety training, poorly stored survival suits and an alarm bell that didn’t work.
Hamilton also contended hundreds of letters were falsified in a conspiracy to show that crewmen had enough ``sea time″ experience needed to become licensed.
In other cases, Arctic Alaska put ``paper mates″ and ``paper masters″ on vessels who were there only for appearance while other crew members were in charge, Hamilton said.