Jackson County

Omega Protein settles with workers injured in collision

U.S. COAST GUARD 
 This was the 163-foot pogy boat Sandy Point, owned by Omega Protein, before it sank in 2011. Sixteen crew members were on board and three drowned after the pogy boat collided with a cargo vessel four times its size.
U.S. COAST GUARD This was the 163-foot pogy boat Sandy Point, owned by Omega Protein, before it sank in 2011. Sixteen crew members were on board and three drowned after the pogy boat collided with a cargo vessel four times its size.

GULFPORT -- Omega Protein has settled a lawsuit with two workers injured in 2014, when one of the fish processing plant's vessels struck a vessel the men were working on in Moss Point.

The lawsuit was first filed for Michael Clarence Merrill, who claimed he suffered permanent disabling injuries Jan. 20, 2014. He was a marine carpenter employed by US Joiner LLC, and was performing marine services aboard the Oyster Bayou, a vessel moored at Omega's shipyard in Moss Point.

The Frosty Morn, a vessel also owned and operated by Omega, struck the Oyster Bayou twice, the lawsuit said.

Merrill's spine and connective nerves, muscles, joints and tissues were damaged. He sought a jury trial and damages in excess of $75,000.

Co-worker Robert John Hobdy was later allowed to join the lawsuit with claims for his injuries. AMFED National Insurance Co. intervened, seeking to recover benefits it had paid Hobdy.

Court records show Omega Protein and Merrill agreed to a settlement in August.

The settlement with Hobdy was announced Tuesday.

Chief U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. issued a final judgment Tuesday and dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice. The complaint cannot be brought back up.

Omega Protein, situated off Elder Ferry Road near the Escatawpa River, is a producer of omega-3 fish oil and specialty fish products. It's shipyard is used for upkeep on its vessels.

The business has faced several wrongful death lawsuits in recent years and been cited with safety violations and fined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Omega settled with the families of three men who drowned May 18, 2011, when its 163-foot pogy boat Sandy Point collided with the 660-foot cargo ship Eurus London in the Gulfport ship channel. Those who died were Roderick Watkins, 48, of Moss Point; Lindsey Tucker, 58, of Vancleave; and Thomas L. Moore, 65, of Havelock, N.C.

Omega settled a wrongful death lawsuit Jan. 14 with Katlyn Taylor, whose husband, Jerry Lee Taylor II, 25, was killed in an explosion at the plant July 28, 2014. He was welding on top of a metal storage tank when it exploded, throwing him 100 feet. Three others were injured, one of them seriously.

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OSHA cited Omega for 13 serious violations and fined the business and three others more than $187,000.

Last year, a federal judge ruled in Omega's favor in a machinery accident that killed Christopher Allen Hebert, 24, on April 9, 2012. He was dragged into a conveyor as he did maintenance work, and died from blood loss. The judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to show how Omega was responsible for his death.

OSHA cited Omega for 22 violations and set a $50,000 fine.

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