At Kherkher Garcia, LLP, our offshore maritime injury attorneys believe that maritime workers should be informed about the totality of the risks involved in maritime work. Below, we offer insight into the dangers of vessel sinkings, including the common causes, injuries that often occur, and how to get help after an injury.
Recent Examples of Vessel Sinkings
The maritime industry encompasses many occupations and industries. Therefore, the examples we offer of vessel sinkings involve a variety of vessels and situations. A few of the most recent sinkings include:
- June, 2023: A fishing boat carrying migrants sank off the coast of Greece killing at least 78 people. Dozens more are missing, and several survivors are hospitalized with injuries including hypothermia.
- May, 2023:A fishing boat sank near Sitka, Alaska, killing at least three people. Two others on the chartered fishing boat are still missing . Investigators are unsure of what happened, as two bodies were found in a cabin and one was found near the partially submerged boat.
- February 25, 2023:A recreational vessel sank off the coast of Galveston, Texas with six people onboard. The U.S. Coast Guard sent a rescue team to collect the passengers, all of whom were wearing life jackets. Reports suggest that the dewatering pumps onboard the boat stopped working, causing the vessel to sink.
As these few examples suggest, vessel sinkings can happen to any vessel, anytime, anywhere. Even skilled and trained vessel operators and crew are not exempt from the hazards of the maritime world.
Causes of Vessel Sinkings
There are many reasons why vessels sink, but some of the most common causes include:
- Flooding: This is the most common cause of vessel sinking. Flooding can occur due to a variety of factors, such as a collision, grounding, or a hull breach.
- Grounding and Collision: Vessels can sink if they run aground or collide with another vessel. Grounding can occur in shallow water, while collisions can occur in any body of water.
- Loss of Stability: A vessel can lose stability if it is overloaded, has a damaged hull, or is caught in rough weather. When a vessel loses stability, it can capsize and sink.
- Poor Weather Conditions: Vessels can sink in bad weather, such as storms, hurricanes, or tsunamis. These conditions can create large waves, strong winds, and heavy rain, which can all contribute to a vessel sinking.
- Negligence and Human Error: Human error is a factor in many vessel sinkings. This can include errors made by the crew, such as improper navigation or maintenance, or errors made by the shipyard, such as poor construction or design.
- Fire: A fire on board a vessel can quickly spread and cause extensive damage. If the fire is not extinguished, it can lead to the vessel sinking.
- Sabotage: Vessels can be sunk intentionally by sabotage. This can be done by a variety of means, such as explosives, gunfire, or ramming.
Sadly, most vessel sinkings are due to human error or equipment malfunction – or some combination of the two. Other factors like weather conditions certainly contribute to sinkings and can make an already dangerous situation much worse.
Common Injuries Sustained During Vessel Sinkings
When maritime workers find themselves involved in vessel sinkings, they can sustain various types of injuries. The severity and nature of these injuries depend on several factors, including:
- The circumstances of the sinking
- Size of the vessel
- Time available for evacuation
- Individual factors such as the worker’s location on the vessel
- Access to safety equipment
Here are some injuries that maritime workers may sustain during vessel sinkings:
Drowning is a significant risk when a vessel sinks, especially if workers are unable to reach life rafts or other flotation devices in time. The sudden immersion in water and the possibility of being trapped inside the vessel can lead to drowning.
During a vessel sinking, maritime workers may suffer from traumatic injuries such as fractures, lacerations, contusions, and head injuries. These injuries can occur due to falls, being struck by objects, or getting caught in moving machinery or equipment.
If the sinking occurs in cold waters, maritime workers may be at risk of hypothermia. Exposure to cold water for an extended period can lead to a drop in body temperature, causing hypothermia, which can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.
When a vessel sinks, structural collapse or shifting cargo can lead to crush injuries. Workers may get trapped between heavy objects or within confined spaces, resulting in severe injuries, including fractures, internal organ damage, and compartment syndrome.
If a vessel sinks due to a fire or explosion, maritime workers may sustain burn injuries. These injuries can be caused by direct contact with flames, hot surfaces, or exposure to hazardous chemicals.
Smoke Inhalation and Respiratory Issues
During a vessel sinking involving a fire, smoke inhalation becomes a significant concern. Inhaling smoke and toxic fumes can lead to respiratory problems, lung damage, and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Prevention, safety training, and preparedness play crucial roles in mitigating the risks and reducing the severity of injuries during vessel sinkings. Employers and maritime authorities should prioritize safety measures, provide proper training, and ensure that workers have access to appropriate safety equipment and evacuation procedures to minimize the potential for injuries in such situations.
How Vessel Sinkings Can be Prevented
Vessel sinkings are a serious safety hazard, and there are a number of things that can be done to prevent them. These include:
- Proper Training: Crew members should be properly trained in all aspects of vessel operation, including navigation, maintenance, and emergency procedures.
- Regular Inspection: Vessels should be regularly inspected for any signs of damage or wear and tear.
- Adhering to Safety Regulations: Vessels should adhere to all applicable safety regulations, such as those governing loading and unloading, navigation, and crew training.
- Taking Precautions in Bad Weather: Vessels should take precautions in bad weather, such as reducing speed and taking shelter from the storm.
By taking these steps, we can help to prevent vessel sinkings and save lives.
What are My Rights After a Vessel Sinking?
If you are injured in a vessel sinking, you may have legal rights to compensation for your injuries. The specific laws that apply to your case will depend on the circumstances of the sinking, but in general:
- If you are an employee in the maritime industry, you may qualify for compensation under maritime law such as the Jones Act or the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.
- If you are a passenger or other non-employee, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the vessel owner or operator for negligence.
To prove negligence, you must show that the vessel owner or operator failed to take reasonable care to prevent the sinking, and that this failure caused your injuries. For example, if the vessel owner or operator failed to properly maintain the vessel, or if they overloaded the vessel, they may be liable for your injuries. Additionally, if the vessel was not properly equipped with lifeboats or if it had a hull breach, it may be considered unseaworthy.
Here are some of the legal rights you may have if you are injured in a vessel sinking:
- The right to compensation for medical expenses: This includes the cost of your medical care, such as doctor’s visits, hospital stays, and prescription drugs.
- The right to compensation for lost wages: This includes the wages you lost as a result of your injuries, such as the wages you would have earned if you had not been injured.
- The right to compensation for pain and suffering: This includes the emotional and physical pain and suffering you have experienced as a result of your injuries.
- The right to compensation for disfigurement: This includes any physical changes to your appearance that have resulted from your injuries.
The amount of compensation you may receive for your injuries will depend on the severity of your injuries, the extent of your losses, and the facts of your case. However, if you have been injured in a vessel sinking, you may be entitled to significant compensation.
How Can an Attorney Help After a Vessel Sinking Injury?
After a vessel sinking injury, an attorney with expertise in maritime law can provide valuable assistance. Working with a skilled maritime attorney is the best way to protect your rights and obtain the compensation you deserve.
At Kherkher Garcia, our attorneys help clients in several ways:
Our attorneys explain your rights and legal options following a vessel sinking injury. We can help you understand relevant maritime laws, regulations, and statutes that may apply to your case. We will also guide you through the legal process and provide advice on the best course of action.
Our maritime attorneys have the resources and experience necessary to conduct a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding a vessel sinking. We can gather evidence, interview witnesses, review accident reports, and analyze relevant documents to build a strong case on your behalf.
Maritime accidents can involve multiple parties, including vessel owners, operators, crew members, manufacturers, or maintenance companies. Our maritime attorneys can help determine who may be liable for your injuries. We will examine negligence, unseaworthiness, maintenance issues, or other factors that may have contributed to the sinking and your injuries.
Dealing with insurance companies after an injury can be complex and challenging. Our maritime attorneys can handle communications and negotiations with insurance providers on your behalf. We will work to ensure that your rights are protected, and you receive fair compensation for your injuries, medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
If a fair settlement cannot be reached through negotiations, our maritime attorneys can file a lawsuit and represent you in court. We will handle all aspects of the legal proceedings, including filing legal documents, presenting evidence, questioning witnesses, and advocating for your rights before a judge and/or jury.
It is important to consult with a maritime attorney as soon as possible after a vessel sinking injury to ensure that your rights are protected and that you receive the necessary legal representation and support to pursue your claim effectively.
Get a Free Consultation with Our Maritime Injury Attorneys
If you suffered injuries while onboard a vessel that sank, you may be entitled to compensation. A free consultation with the maritime attorneys at Kherkher Garcia can help you explore your rights, applicable maritime law, and potential options to get the compensation that you deserve.
Get started with your free consultation by calling us at 713-333-1030, or by contacting us online. Our maritime attorneys are here for you!