One of captain's convictions overturned on appeal

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By Ashley Fitzpatrick

Transcontinental Media/The Telegram

Fishing captain Shawn Ralph was the focus of attention when his boat, the Melina and Keith II, sank in 2005, resulting in the death of four crewmembers.

Ralph was subsequently convicted of five Canada Shipping Act violations, and, on Jan. 21, judge Robert Fowler decided all but one of those convictions will be upheld.

It was Sept. 6, 2005 when the 65-foot longliner Melina and Keith II sailed out of Catalina in search of shrimp and turbot. The boat was about 150 kilometres east of Cape Bonavista when it capsized, forcing captain and crew into the ocean.

The eight men were alive at first, holding fast to the overturned boat. It sank while they awaited rescue. Four of the men — Joshua Williams, Justin Ralph, Anthony Molloy and Ivan Dyke — died.

Formal investigations into the tragedy found failings on several fronts. One was rescue response time. The ship’s crew had called for help at 3:18 p.m., but a rescue helicopter was not dispatched from Gander until 5:35 p.m. A safety investigation by the Coast Guard following the loss of the fishermen acknowledged a need for more search and rescue staff across Canada, as well as more formalized training on the monitoring of vessels.

Another failing was found in equipment standards and emergency preparation. A distress signal sent from the boat did not indicate its location.

The Transportation Safety Board also found search and rescue personnel had difficulty contacting the fishing vessel owner and operator, because of insufficient contact information.

As well, it was determined the crew aboard the Melina and Keith II were not properly trained in the use of lifesaving equipment. Following this determination, charges were laid against the captain of the vessel.

In 2008, Ralph was convicted by Judge Gregory Brown of five charges.

He had failed to: have the proper number of qualified mates on board, maintain a proper watch when he left the deck, keep a proper lookout, have proper certification in place for use of the vessel and make sure the crew understood how to use the lifesaving and firefighting equipment.

His sentence was a $5,000 fine — with the judge stating the convictions did not indicate Ralph was responsible for the deaths of the four crewmen.

Ralph appealed his convictions a week after sentencing with his lawyer David Bussey.

In the appeal decision handed down, Ralph was acquitted of the charge of not having had proper certification for the vessel. The result was due to definitions, as the charge refers to Ralph as “the owner and master of a steamship” when he was not.

“There was no evidence before the trial judge that the Melina and Keith II was in fact a steamship, which is defined by Section 1 of the Crewing Regulations as: a ship the propulsive power of which is derived from boilers and steam engines,” stated Brown, adding evidence showed the boat was, in fact, powered by a diesel engine.

“ The Crown must prove the essential element of the offence charged beyond a reasonable doubt. Here one of the essential elements in the count was in relation to the classification or type of vessel. It was not a steamship.”

The fine resulting from that charge has been reversed. The bulk of the fines against Ralph (more than $3,000) remain in place.

Ralph, meanwhile, returned to work on the ocean following the loss of the Melina & Keith II.

In September 2009, he was aboard the vessel Havre aux Maison when it caught fire 134 kilometres from the coast. All on board that boat — Ralph and three other crew members — survived.

Organizations: Coast Guard, Transportation Safety Board

Geographic location: Canada, Catalina, Cape Bonavista

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