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Families sue over clam digger deaths in Alaska

Posted: May 23, 2012 - 12:00am

ANCHORAGE — The families of five clam diggers who died when their overloaded skiff sank last year in cold waters in an Alaska inlet have sued the seafood company that hired the men.

The claim filed last week in U.S. District Court accuses the seafood company of failing to provide proper gear and training.

The men were hired to harvest razor clams at beaches on the west side of Cook Inlet. They died when their boat, loaded with more than 100 clam buckets, flooded in May 2011.

Oregon-based Pacific Seafood Group, which owns Pacific Alaska Shellfish, had no comment Monday on the lawsuit. The men worked on contract for Pacific Alaska Shellfish.

The suit says the company did not train the men on how to safely pilot their 22-foot skiff, and didn’t provide survival suits and two-way radios.

The lawsuit says none of them were provided with water-safety rules, emergency life-saving lessons or told how many pounds of clams to safely carry in the boat, according to Tuesday’s Anchorage Daily News.

The five killed were: Roberto Ramirez-Pacheco, 42; Jose A. Sandoval, 34, of Bakersfield, Calif.; Avelino Garcia Oropeza, 36, of Oregon; Jose Rivera Sandoval, 24, of Los Angeles; and Ramon Valdivia Isiordia, 31, of Oregon.

One of the men was found wearing a life jacket, authorities said. But the lawsuit says the workers should have been provided with survival suits, not life jackets, to work in Cook Inlet.

One man, Noel Garcia, 42, of Washington state survived because he decided to walk from the harvesting spot to the clam diggers’ camp.

The men were part of a group that had spent much of the day digging for razor clams between Crescent River and Polly Creek on the west side of the inlet.

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