While not all are catastrophic, and in fact many barely register public notice, even the smallest maritime accident is a reminder of how important it is to follow safety regulations. Maritime accidents can have a broad reach, affecting those directly involved in the accident, such as a vessel and its crew, but also impacting marine life and the environment.
They may involve vessels ranging from small private pleasure boats to large working ships like commercial fishing vessels, oil tankers, tugboats and cargo ships. These kinds of accidents also may affect structures such as oil drilling platforms, cranes and even the shipyard itself.
The shipyard is where a ship is assembled and constructed. Accidents in this area include fitting and welding accidents, as well as illness from the inhalation of poisonous fumes released during welding.
Maritime Law is a specialized field that refers to the United States laws and regulations governing activities in any navigable waters or the open sea. This area of law includes international agreements and treaties. Federal courts have jurisdiction over maritime law, which provides maritime workers with compensation for injuries suffered offshore or in the maritime industry.
Small Boat Accidents
Most of all boating fatalities could have been prevented if passengers were wearing personal flotation devices like life jackets. There also was $36 million in property damage as a result of boating related accidents in 2009.
Many boating accidents were the result of alcohol use. Just as in driving a car, alcohol use while boating can lead to impairment of critical senses needed to avoid boating accidents. Slowed reaction time and diminished decision-making ability can make your day on the water a less than enjoyable one. Additionally, alcohol can cause dehydration and illness when you are exposed to a hot, sunny day of boating.
The most common types of vessels involved in reported accidents were open motorboats, personal watercraft and cabin motorboats.
Cruise Ship Accidents
A cruise ship is a large luxury vessel that can transport many people, usually ranging from hundreds to thousands of passengers, for the intent of pleasure or vacation. Cruise ships usually follow a set itinerary, visiting ports of call where passengers may disembark to enjoy the local area, but the “days at sea” are as much a part of the experience as the ports of call visited by the ship.
In rare occasions, cruise vessels may capsize or run aground as a result of rough weather, mechanical problems or negligence. Rough weather may also result in passengers becoming ill or falling and becoming injured. Due to weather or other mishaps, ships may become stranded at sea, subjecting passengers to dangers from the elements as air conditioning, refrigeration and sanitation systems become inoperable. Passengers also may face dangers resulting from ill-trained or negligent crew onboard ships. These injuries might happen during a shore excursion or at a spa, pool or restaurant, resulting in serious personal injury, illness or even death.
Cargo Ship Accidents
Cargo ships and container ships are similar vessels that can transport large and heavy loads of commercial goods and materials. They may be used between U.S. ports or ship freight internationally. Other types of cargo vessels may include tankers, which transport liquid cargo like petroleum, and dry-bulk carriers.
One of the major causes of accidents on cargo tankers is explosions. This may result in loss of the vessel, its cargo, and loss of life, as well as environmental damage.
Cargo ships also may pose hazards to crews that work to load and unload the ships, those that work on the vessel during transportation of goods, and others that come into contact with the vessel on the sea and in port. Different rules apply to workers who are injured offshore than those who are injured in port.
Crane accidents may take place on ports or on ships. Crane accidents are often the result of faulty wires or winches, or also may be due to operator negligence or inexperience.
Oil or Gas Platform Accidents
An oil or gas platform, also commonly called an offshore platform or oil rig, is a large structure in a large body of water, usually the ocean, with the facilities to drill wells, extract and process oil or gas and temporarily store it for transport to refineries on land. The platform may be fixed to the ocean floor, attached to or comprise an artificial island, or may be floating and movable. Large oil and gas platforms will provide accommodations for crew, which live and work on the platform for set periods of time.
They are complex structures with heavy machinery and complex operating processes. These platforms are located in an often volatile environment, subject to the whims of the weather, marine life and the elements.
Perhaps the best known oil platform tragedy is a recent one. On April 20, 2010, a massive offshore oil rig known as the Deepwater Horizon exploded and caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico, about 50 miles from Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. The Deepwater Horizon was one of 14 offshore oil rigs owned and operated by Transocean in the Gulf of Mexico. The rig was under lease to oil giant BP for exploratory drilling when the explosion occurred. Eleven workers were killed.
Firefighters and the U.S. Coast Guard fought for two days to contain the fire, but the rig sank on April 22, releasing nearly a million gallons of diesel fuel into the Gulf waters and creating a nearly unstoppable leak of crude. It took four months to seal the well and stop the flow of oil. This eventually became the biggest oil disaster the U.S. has ever seen.