The engine room (also known as the “engine compartment”, “machinery compartment” or “gear room”) of any vessel can look like something out of science fiction. The engine room is where the vessel’s propulsion machinery and other systems are located. The space is often cramped and filled with sharp corners and uneven surfaces. It can also be loud, hot, and subject to low ceilings. While minor accidents are common, catastrophe can also strike resulting in oil spills, fires, explosions, and sinkings.
Maritime employees who serve in the engine compartment are sometimes referred to as the “Engine Department” and may include:
But not all vessels have a complex hierarchy of engineers. Others rely on vessel masters (captains), mates, and deckhands to monitor engine spaces on smaller vessels while they are underway.
Working is a vessel engine room can be dangerous, but that’s no excuse for negligence by vessel owners and operators. Workers are injured in engine room accidents every year on all kinds of vessels: commercial fishing vessels, containerships, dry bulk vessels, ro-ro ships, tugs, barges, ferries, cruise ships, car carriers, tankers, tour boats, and private yachts. Engine room incidents often result from:
Engine room fires
Inadequate safety equipment
Insufficient crew training
Poorly maintained equipment and machinery
Defective equipment and machinery
Any of these conditions can develop on a modern ship, but problems may be exacerbated on older vessels near the end of their service life.
Good safety culture is a key component of staying safe in vessel machinery spaces. Negligence in the engine room by vessel owners, vessel operators, and crewmembers can result in moderate to severe and debilitating injuries:
Traumatic brain injuries
Cuts and lacerations
Slip, trip and fall injuries
The many wires and pipes connecting the complicated systems in a ship’s engine compartment are a good analogy for the complex nature of maritime law. There are overlapping federal statutes and centuries old common law remedies working together to protect commercial mariners injured on the job. It makes sense to those who understand what they’re looking at.
Seafarers who spend most of their time aboard boats and ships in the engine room are likely designated as seamen under admiralty law. “Seaman” is an employment status necessary to take advantage of the beneficial legal scheme under the Jones Act. The Jones Act has been around for decades and requires maritime employers to provide crewmembers a safe place to work. If the employer breaches that duty, liability and monetary damages may result. Another cause of action available to seamen against vessel owners is unseaworthiness. This ancient doctrine makes a vessel owner liable for appurtenances of their ship, including crewmembers, that are not fit for their intended purpose during the voyage. Unseaworthy conditions can lead to liability for compensation as well. Compensation to seamen may include lost past and future earnings, disability, loss of enjoyment, and pain and suffering.
In addition to the aforementioned fault-based remedies, seamen are also entitled to maintenance and cure for shipboard injuries regardless of vessel owner or operator negligence. Maintenance covers some of a mariner’s living expenses during the recovery period while cure pays for workplace injury-related medical expenses. Additionally, the injured mariner may also be entitled to unearned wages—the wages he or she would have earned if injury had not prevented finishing the voyage or contract period.
Just as the maritime industry is niche and difficult to understand for many outsiders, so too is maritime law. If you or a loved one was injured—or worse, killed—in an engine room accident, choose an experienced attorney specializing in maritime injury law. Mariner Law, PLLC only represents injured mariners and wants to help you during these difficult times. The only way to know what compensation and benefits may be available under maritime law is to consult a Jones Act lawyer. Initial calls with Mariner Law, PLLC are free and there is no obligation: (253) 600-2531. The firm proudly serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.