Mooring lines are the heavy-duty lines, cords, or cables used to secure a large vessel to its berth in port. While mooring lines can be used on vessels of all sizes and configurations, they are commonly associated with container ships, dry bulk ships, car carriers, ro-ro vessels, tugs, barges, large ferries, cruise ships, and other massive commercial vessels.
On many ships, the mooring area is located on the forecastle and the stern of the vessel. Relevant equipment includes mooring winch, drums, windlass, chocks, bits, capstans, and bollards.
Many types of different mooring lines have been used over time:
Natural fiber ropes
High modulus ropes
Material science for commercial mooring lines continues to improve but ships just keep getting bigger and heavier too.
Most mooring line accidents occur as the result of unexpected and violent mooring line movement. Lines can move for a number of reasons such as becoming snagged and snapping free, being mishandled on the drum or strong point, or simply breaking. Snagging conditions can develop due to surface defects on the dock or ship, or by simply having the mooring line in an unsafe location to begin with.
Mooring line breaking can result from failure to maintain or replace a worn or damaged line. Mooring ropes are extensively tested for Line Break Force and Working Load Limit. They may also be subjected to a Line Management Plan or a Mooring System Management Plan to prevent development of unsafe conditions.
These line condition issues most often result in injuries when a crewmember is caught in the bight of a mooring line. Problem is, sometimes it’s hard to know what areas on deck or pier are within the bight of a mooring line. Numerous factors are in play, such as tide, wind, current, freeboard, length of mooring line, and location of mooring equipment. A broken mooring line can snap horizontally, vertically, and in many different directions in an instant—like a rubber band. It cannot be overstated how dangerous a parted mooring line can be. Mooring line strikes regularly kill seafarers and longshoreman instantly. Still other horrific injuries can result, including:
Traumatic brain injuries
Ships in port are busy. They are loading/discharging cargo, taking on food, receiving mail, renewing equipment, and buying replacement parts. Crewmembers are present, but so too are vessel agents, longshoremen, inspectors, insurance personnel, surveyors, volunteers, security workers, and many others. Any or all of these people can come within proximity of a mooring line. Any one of them could be maimed or tragically killed in the blink of an eye as the result of negligence.
But not all of those individuals at risk of mooring line injuries are subject to the same laws. That’s where a seasoned maritime attorney can help. Admiralty attorneys are familiar with vessel operations and the cast of characters involved. They also understand the fine distinctions between the many maritime statutes and common laws.
For example, workers who are land based and primarily engaged in loading/unloading a vessel may be qualified as longshoremen under the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA). Longshoremen can receive compensation and medical expenses through administrative proceedings in front of the Department of Labor. The keen eye of a maritime lawyer may be able to spot other targets for injuries suffered by longshoremen, such as vessel owners and other third parties.
Commercial mariners who are hurt in service of a vessel usually qualify as seamen under the Jones Act. The Jones Act is over 100 years old and allows maritime employees to sue their employer for negligence. Simply stated, Congress used the Jones Act to require employers of seamen to provide a safe place to work. A seaman may also have a claim against a vessel owner for unseaworthiness. Unseaworthiness is a very old maritime common law concept that opens a vessel owner to liability when a vessel, its crew, or its equipment is not fit for its intended purpose. Injured seamen may also be entitled maintenance and cure compensation benefits to help with living expenses and medical bills while recovering from the shipboard injury.
There may be other persons injured by mooring lines that are neither longshoremen nor seamen (e.g. passengers). These claimants may have claims for negligence under general maritime law or even state law. It’s important to speak to a competent admiralty lawyer as soon after a mooring line injury as possible to start addressing these tricky issues.
If you or a loved one was struck by a snapped or parted mooring line, you probably have a million questions. You may be left uncertain about present healthcare and future income. It can be a scary time. Mariner Law, PLLC is familiar with maritime law and mooring line injuries. The firm genuinely cares about its clients ad wants to help with answers. Consultation with a maritime attorney is free. Call (253) 600-2531 to speak with a Jones Act attorney. There’s no obligation. The firm proudly serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.