At its core, the maritime industry is about moving cargo or people from one place to another by water. As of 2021, the Maritime Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation reported that there were over 180 large U.S.-flagged ships carrying cargo to and from the United States. That’s over 8,000,000 deadweight tons of cargo capacity. Ships in the U.S-flag fleet include:
Dry Bulk Ships
General Cargo Vessels (a.k.a. Break-Bulk Ships)
Ro-Ro (a.k.a. “Roll-on-Roll-off” or “Car Carriers”)
And that’s just the fleet flying the U.S. flag. Globally in 2020, 71% of world trade was in manufactured goods worth $12 trillion. Simply put, humanity moves a lot of stuff and we rely heavily on vessels and merchant mariners to get the job done.
With all these vessels and goods moving from place to place on tight schedules, sometimes the safety of seafarers and dock workers falls by the wayside. These key maritime employees move, load, unload, and secure cargo in an endless cycle. Depending on the ship and trade route, these workers could be dealing with any type of cargo imaginable. Some common examples include:
Produce (like fruit and vegetables)
Electronics (including batteries)
Bulk Commodities (like salt, sugar, and wheat)
Some of these cargoes are more dangerous than others, but almost any cargo will be big, heavy, and cumbersome to move. This means that crush injuries are always a risk. Other cargoes are potentially flammable, explosive, or cancer-causing. At a minimum, those working on or near the water are regularly exposed to some of the biggest and heaviest equipment on the planet. A malfunction in engines, gears, pumps, or hydraulics can cause injury near trucks, cranes, forklifts, train cars, hatches, and ship equipment.
Other causes of cargo-related injuries may include:
Operator error (such as a crane operator mishandling heavy cargo)
Improper training (such as employers failing to teach safety practices to their employees)
Bad Maintenance (such as failing to repair equipment or perform preventative maintenance)
Exhaustion (such as failing to provide workers time to rest)
Rushing (such as pressing workers to operate faster than is safe under the circumstances)
Improper Loading (such as when cargo shifts and crushes workers)
While loading vessels by hand is less common in modern maritime trade, longshoreman still suffer injuries from back-breaking labor. These may include injuries to the back, neck, head, broken bones, lacerations of the skin, joints, and whole-body.
Merchant mariners, as the ship’s crew, are not usually tasked with handing cargo. However, crewmembers are still injured by cargo every year. Cargo can shift once aboard, explode, or catch fire. These are very serious issues that have resulted in the total loss of numerous ships within the last decade alone. Often, masters, mates, deckhands, engineers, cooks, ordinary seamen, able seamen, and other crewmembers are required to abandon ship as a result of cargo-related fires. Once separated from the ship, the crew is exposed to a host of new hazards, including exposure, hypothermia, dehydration, and search and rescue.
The Jones Act and maritime law require maritime employers to provide a safe place to work and a seaworthy vessel. These are legal terms of art that may be difficult to understand, but the takeaway is this: maritime workers are a protected class of employees. Their rights are enforceable under federal law. In fact, they are even known as “Wards of the Admiralty Court.”
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) is another federal statute that protects amphibious workers. These types of employees may still have a claim against a negligent vessel owner or other third-party. A Jones Act attorney can help you understand these complex laws.
Mariner Law, PLLC has handled cases on all kinds of cargo vessels, including tugs, barges, containerships, dry bulk ships, tankships, and ro-ro carriers. The firm also understands mariners and longshoreman roles in the complex field of maritime trade. If you’ve been injured on or near the water, don’t guess about what compensation you might be entitled to—ask a maritime lawyer. There’s no obligation to call and the initial consultation with a Jones Act lawyer is free. Mariner Law, PLLC is standing by to assist: (253) 600-2531. The firm proudly serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.