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Alaska Ferry Worker Injured in Bellingham

On Friday, November 2, an Alaska ferry worker was injured after a support cable snapped on the passenger loading ramp she was standing on at Bellingham Cruise Terminal, in Fairhaven.

The female Alaska Marine Highway ferry ramp operator, who was not identified, was standing near the edge of the passenger ramp at 3:20 p.m., lowering it into place on the stern of the ship, witnesses said. Just as it got parallel with the ground, a cable snapped - it wasn't clear why - and the ramp collapsed. Some wooden pilings kept it from falling further. The worker fell a distance of about 20 feet, landing on the damaged ramp.

"I thought it was a freaking earthquake," said TJ Tjomsland, of Sitka, Alaska, who was waiting to board the ferry. "The speculation is she had a head injury."

Other witnesses said she seemed to have hurt her back. Port officials didn't know how she landed. Workers rushed to her and called an ambulance. The injured ferry worker was taken to St. Joseph hospital. No update on her condition was available Friday evening.

The M/V COLUMBIA, a 418-foot vessel, was scheduled to leave the terminal, 355 Harris Ave., at 6 p.m., but was delayed.

Ryan Hardy, who had a ticket for the Alaskan coast, saw the incident from the terminal.

"She started to move (the ramp) and I could hear something pop," he said. "It shook, and then there was another pop."

Then she fell, as the ramp buckled about two dozen feet from the edge of the vessel.

No foot passengers were boarding the ferry at the time of the accident. A few had already driven vehicles onboard.

Foot passengers had to board through the vehicle loading area, because the ramp was "completely broken," said Port of Bellingham spokeswoman Carolyn Casey.

The ramp is owned by the Port of Bellingham.

Source: Caleb Hutton, Bellingham Herald

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In Washington, state ferry workers look to the Jones Act and general maritime law when they sustain on-the-job injuries. The State of Washington has waived its sovereign immunity for maritime worker injury claims.

This is not the case for Alaska Marine Highway workers. With the enactment of Alaska Statute 09.50.250(5), the Alaska legislature rescinded its waiver of sovereign immunity for maritime workers employed by the State. The statute survived a constitutional challenge in the case of Glover v. State of Alaska. Consequently, Alaska ferry workers injured on the job have no civil cause of action against their employer, the State of Alaska. They are instead covered by state workers' compensation. However, where third parties cause or contribute to accidents, the general maritime law may provide additional remedies for the seamen.

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