The tough captain of the fishing vessel Northwestern, Captain Sig Hansen, became one of the most recognized reality television personalities through the hit series “Deadliest Catch.” His amazing exploits in the treacherous waters of the Bering Sea was well documented by Discovery Channel since the TV show was launched in 2005. His journey with the show had been smooth sailing until he faced a lawsuit filed by a former deckhand, citing inadequate and delayed medical treatment for his abdominal pain, which resulted in an emergency operation along with the discovery of a more serious medical condition.
Get to know Captain Sig Hansen
Sig Hansen was arguably the most popular crab fishing captain in the reality TV series “Deadliest Catch.” His success in the industry was primarily due to his family background.
Growing up years and family
Sigurd Jonny Hansen was born on 28 April 1966, in a Scandinavian fishing community in Seattle, Washington State. Initially, his parents, Sverre and Snefryd, debated on whose father would be their eldest child’s namesake. Eventually, his father won and he was named after his grandfather, Sigurd. To ensure that his other grandfather, Jakob, wouldn’t be left out, Sig was christened with a second name Jonny as a tribute to him. Apparently in Norway, if a person wasn’t chosen to be the baby’s namesake, it was considered an honor to choose one that began with the same letter of his name. However, Sig recalled that being given such a name, Sigurd Jonny meant getting into many fistfights growing up in 1970s America, as he was oftentimes teased by friends and classmates. The family moved out from to Shoreline, Washington State, to a bigger house with a yard. He has two younger brothers named Edgar and Norman.
He grew up surrounded by Norwegians, Swedes and Danes; most never really spoke English unless they needed to. There was a time when he was in elementary when Sig went home with a note from his teacher addressed to his parents telling them, ‘TEACH HIM ENGLISH. STOP SPEAKING NORWEGIAN.’ They didn’t attend PTA meetings as his father was out at sea nine months a year, and his mom only spoke English when paying bills or buying groceries.
His family’s fishing legacy
Sig came from a long line of Norwegian fishermen, sailors, merchant marine workers, and captains. His father, Sverre, was also a captain of a fishing vessel just like his grandfather before him. When the fishing industry around Seattle declined back then, he and a few brave and adventurous fishermen went farther North to explore the Bering Sea. They couldn’t believe their luck when they found an immense treasure in the form of Red King crabs. Today, Sverre is widely acknowledged as one of the pioneers in the crab industry in Alaska. Dutch Harbor wasn’t as popular and successful as it had been in the last two decades; at that time, it was only a few Japanese and local trawlers who had been catching crabs, but when the Norwegians and Americans developed the boxlike steel traps, they amassed a fortune. It was from a bygone era when fishermen mostly relied on experience, gut instinct, and a whole lot of luck to make it home alive with huge hauls of crabs, without the assistance of technology. Some people in Sig’s family were swept overboard, and it didn’t matter if they did everything right, the Bering Sea was just brutal so even the most cautious men perished at sea.
— Sig Hansen (@northwesternsig) August 2, 2013
His fishing background
Captain Sig Hansen started fishing at the young age of 12, and was mainly taught by his father. He was already aware of how dangerous their profession was, as he grew up watching his grandfather walk around with crutches because of it, however, it didn’t deter him from dreaming of becoming just like them. His mother knew right from the beginning that he would continue the family legacy, as the young Sig would draw boats and crab pots instead of practicing how to write the alphabet. Initially, he had a terrible bout of seasickness, but he eventually became used to the rough waves. Aside from watching his father do his job aboard the family-owned fishing vessel called Northwestern, he also accompanied his uncle on fishing exploits. However, his first real fishing job was under his father’s friend who never hired greenhorns, but took him in as a favor. Sig’s father equipped him well with the best fishing gear and a piece of solid advice that he followed to the letter. ‘Keep your mouth shut, do what he tells you, and everything will be fine.’
Sig Hansen and his journey in “Deadliest Catch”
Captain Sig Hansen often considered the Bering Sea as the major league of the fishing industry and Dutch Harbor as Yankee Stadium. He was used to playing in the biggest game, competing with the biggest boats, and making the biggest paychecks in a place with the biggest egos. However, he never thought that his job would have him working under the beaming lights of Hollywood, as he became part of the original cast of a reality TV show. He often wondered how it would be if his father was still around when it all happened.
What was “Deadliest Catch” all about?
Hunting for the Alaskan king crabs was not for the faint of heart. Crab fishing wasn’t only challenging but quite unpredictable as well. Most of the time, the weather didn’t co-operate, and the crabs would forever play hide and seek, which made it great for TV. A documentary about this profession was turned into a fully-fledged reality show called “Deadliest Catch.” The TV show presented the fearless fishermen who would battle it out with the raging waves of the cold Bering Sea as they navigated their way to the fishing spots where crab populations continued to shift, depending on several factors including climate change. The series premiered on 12 April 2005, and has been on the air for 19 seasons and counting, produced by Original Productions for Discovery Channel.
Captain Sig’s crew of the F/V Northwestern
The F/V Northwestern had been under Captain Sig’s helm for the past three decades. It wouldn’t be as successful as it had been for many years if not for the support of his fishing family and his dedicated crew that worked alongside him. It had been one of the original fishing boats featured in “Deadliest Catch,” and throughout the years, viewers became familiar with his crew. Some had been with him from the start, but due to the nature of the job, there had been changes over time. Both of the Captain’s younger brothers were part of the Northwestern crew. Edgar worked as the ship’s deck boss and engineer while Norman would alternate as the cook and deckhand, or take responsibility for whatever was needed to be done in the boat. A few seasoned deckhands such as Matt Bradley and Nick Mavar Jr. were the notable ones, but they left the boat for different reasons in 2020. Nick’s nephew, Jake Anderson was also part of the crew for a time, but went on to be the captain of another fishing vessel later on. In recent seasons, the captain’s other family members came in to contribute their skills and expertise to catching crabs including his wife June and his adopted daughter, Maddy, whom he was grooming to be his successor when he hired her back in 2009.
Sig Hansen in the wheelhouse on the Northwestern.
Posted by Deadliest Catch on Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Notable accidents at sea
In every fishing vessel, it was expected that aside from the captain and deckhands, there would be mechanics and welders who could practically fix just about anything, so any incidents that would occur due to the force of nature or overworked machines could be immediately corrected. For instance, a fire broke out in the 9th episode of the 12th season of “Deadliest Catch.” The boat lost its power without any warning, but Captain Sig told everyone to stay calm as his crew put out the fire, and the engineer assessed the problem. Their priority was to isolate the damaged breakers so that they could still use enough power to get the crab pots from the sea before returning to port. During the same season, a part of the boat’s bow cracked as they were hit by a 35-foot rogue wave. He said, ‘I hope we have something in our gear, man, that’s all I can say.’ The F/V Northwestern was lucky enough that for all the years it was at sea, it only had one collision with another boat, in March 2019 as it was nearing Dutch Harbor. The other fishing vessel was cruising out of control and crashed straight into Captain Sig’s boat. While neither boas sustained overwhelming damage, it was a clear reminder that accidents do happen even with a calmer sea and in good weather.
Captain Sig Hansen’s health struggles at sea
Health challenges also occurred at sea, mostly because of extreme exhaustion due to long hours of hard work and an unhealthy lifestyle. Captain Sig Hansen had a severe head injury in the 1990s, when a metal block struck him on his head. While it didn’t result in a serious long-term effect on him, it was a painful lesson to learn to be extra cautious while on deck. He suffered a heart attack in March 2016, captured in “Deadliest Catch” along with the medical evacuation so he could be rushed to a hospital in Anchorage. The tests revealed that he needed emergency surgery since an artery had burst. His doctor said that he was lucky because what he had was what they called the “widow maker.” However, after eight months, he was back at sea. There was also a time when the deckhands noticed that he became incoherent, so a producer fetched his brother Edgar from the engineering bay to check on him, but he couldn’t be convinced to call it a day. Edgar then called Sig’s wife back home and that was only the time he agreed to rest in his cabin.
Success in catching crabs
Due to his extensive experience in crab fishing, Captain Sig would often come home with a huge haul of crabs. During the second season of the reality TV show, his crew was ecstatic that they returned with crabs worth over $1 million. When his tanks were full, he immediately put the boat at top speed because the price of his haul would drop the next day if he couldn’t deliver them to the processing plant in time. In 2019, with his adopted daughter Mandy as relief captain, the F/V Northwestern recorded a staggering catch, and the crew went home with more crabs than they anticipated. The Captain then knew that he could retire anytime he wanted to, because the business was in safe hands. However, the problem was that he didn’t want to stop working. He said in an interview, ‘I can’t stop, that’s the problem. All of us are egomaniacs. You want to stop, but the ego portion won’t let me stop.’
Captain Sig Hansen’s controversial lawsuits
The more Captain Sig Hansen became popular, the more he was embroiled in several rumors and possible controversies. Most of them were unfounded, but a few of them became much-talked about especially on social media platforms due to the scandalous nature of the issue.
Abuse allegations by a daughter from a previous marriage
“Deadliest Catch” fans were surprised when reports circulated on blog sites that Captain Sig Hansen’s biological estranged daughter named Melissa Eckstrom from his previous marriage made allegations that her father sexually abused her when she was about two years old; it was during the time when her parents were in the process of divorcing in 1990. The adult Melissa said that she went into depression, had suicidal tendencies and eating disorders during her childhood because of the incident. She said that the memory of his abuse was still prevalent in her memory. Based on court records, the prosecutor back then didn’t file a case as they knew they couldn’t prove the allegations, even if they believed Melissa was sexually abused. The F/V Northwestern captain denied the accusations and claimed, ‘This is nothing more than an old-fashioned shakedown.’ Sig said that the lawsuit was some sort of blackmail, and reiterated that it was full of lies concocted by his ex-wife when she took their daughter away from him. It was also used in her attempts to get money from him. Apparently, after the divorce, the captain relinquished all his parental rights, as he thought it would be the best decision for his daughter.
In 2010, Melissa reached out to Sig to ask for help to pay her law school fees, and Sig assigned a mediator to ensure everything was properly documented. However, it didn’t push through as his daughter and ex-wife wanted Sig to pay $300,000 or else they would go to the press. He then filed a police report of what he believed was extortion. When the police intervened, his ex-wife said that he abused their daughter, and that he never paid the support money worth $50,000 as agreed upon during the divorce, which Sig vehemently denied. His lawyers said that they paid for it, and that the case should be dismissed since it was already proven in the past that he didn’t abuse his daughter – it would be a case of double jeopardy. Later, during an interview, Melissa said that she wasn’t after his father’s money, but was asking for justice for what he did to her. A $1.5 million settlement was supposed to close all the issues in 2016, but the mediation fell apart because Sig’s lawyers insisted that if any word from the agreement was leaked to the public, Melissa would lose her lawyer’s license, insisting on that to protect Sig and his family. The case was still in the hands of the Court of Appeals, as they would decide if there was any new evidence to reopen the case.
Former deckhand sued F/V Northwestern’s Captain in 2023
Before 2022 ended, and just a few months after the Captain and his daughter headlined their own spin-off series called “Deadliest Catch: The Viking Returns,” they were greeted by a lawsuit. Nick Mavar Jr., a former deckhand on the F/V Northwestern, filed a lawsuit against Sig Hansen and other owners of the boat, demanding $1 million in damages for failure to provide medical help during the Covid-19 pandemic. He also cited that the delay in an adequate examination of his abdominal pain onboard the fishing vessel led to his appendix rupturing and the late discovery of a tumor, which proved to be cancerous. Nick suffered many illnesses including infections that led to more complications and surgeries.
Captain Sig and the other owners of the boat denied liability in Nick’s personal injury lawsuit. They shifted the blame to Original Productions, the production company of “Deadliest Catch,” and Trifecta Solutions LLC, the subcontractor that they hired to provide medical support for the crew of the boat. Apparently, when Nick complained of abdominal pain, the company’s medics checked on him multiple times but failed to act on it with urgency. Captain Sig and other Northwestern’s owners, through their lawyers LeGros Buchanan and Paul, sought for damages associated to what happened to Nick’s medical care. Despite the ongoing lawsuits, Captain Sig and his daughter Maddy were seen in the 19th season of the reality TV show, which started to air in April 2023.