Tens of thousands of commercial mariners are employed in the United States tugboat, towboat, and barge industry. The seamen manning these tugs and barges supply essential goods and products from coast to coast, on inland rivers, and in the Gulf of Mexico. These activities further support thousands of jobs ashore and billions of dollars in economic output.
Tug and barge casualties sometimes make big headlines. Barges accidents can cause oil spills, explosions, debilitating crewmember injuries, and sometimes wrongful deaths. But even incidents on tugs and barges that don’t the make the news can be life-changing when crewmembers are injured. Captains, deckhands, engineers, and tankermen across the country may all be at risk where vessel owners are negligent.
Seamen on tugs and barges are exposed to heavy duty equipment and massive forces. There are large diesel engines, slippery decks, thick cables, powerful winches and drums, lengthy hawsers, and more to contend with. It’s serious—and sometimes dangerous—work. Crewmembers can be injured in the bite of a mooring line, heavy lifting, falling overboard, or even being crushed.
Navigating tugboats and working barges is also a tricky task even for the saltiest of seafarers. Barges are pushed, pulled, and tugged in open water and near docks—sometimes in concert with multiple tugs. If mistakes are made, barges can be punctured, run aground, collide with other vessels, or drift into nearby structures. The tugs themselves may be at risk for capsizing if forces negatively impact the vessels during operation.
Under the Jones Act and general maritime law, seamen serving aboard tugs of all kinds are entitled to a safe place to work. Merchant mariners on tugs are often as specialized as the vessels they navigate. Common types of tug work include:
Harbor Towing — harbor tow work typically occurs in protected waters, often maneuvering a ship in close quarters near its berth. This can involve sudden movements and strain on engines, lines, equipment, and bodies.
Emergency Towing — sometimes a vessel loses power or unexpectedly breaks. That’s when emergency towing tugs enter the scene. Emergency tugs may be aiding unfamiliar vessels. That means working with unknown crews and their equipment under stressful circumstances.
Escort Towing — escort tugs may be required by the government to protect against disaster in restricted waters. The routine job can quickly turn to dangerous for mariners doing escort towing.
Many times, tug and barge accidents are the result of negligence by a vessel owner or a fellow crewmember. Negligence is the failure to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. Some accidents are caused by an unseaworthy condition aboard the tugboat or barge. Unseaworthiness indicates that the vessel or one of its appurtenances—including the crew—was not fit for its intended purpose. Negligence and unseaworthiness may seem common sense, but an experienced maritime lawyer can help you understand your case within the confines of these unique maritime laws.
Jones Act negligence, unseaworthiness, and maintenance and cure claims may also arise from tankerman injuries aboard various types of barges:
Articulated tug barges (ATB)
Dry bulk cargo barges
Liquid cargo barges
Power plant barges
Mariner Law, PLLC has experience with mariner injury claims aboard tugs and barges. Getting hurt on the job can mean losing your income and facing uncertainty about medical treatment. Don’t go through this unfamiliar process alone. Contact a seasoned maritime attorney at Mariner Law, PLLC to help you navigate your claim from investigation to litigation. Initial consultation with a Jones Act lawyer is always free: (253) 600-2531. The firm proudly serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.