Panama Canal Near-Miss Highlights Maritime Collision Risks

by | Dec 28, 2023 | Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, Maritime Accident, Maritime Injury, Maritime Law, Offshore Accident, The Jones Act

A near-miss maritime collision in the Panama Canal in October, 2023 is highlighting collision risks for cargo ships. The incident occurred when a tug boat was almost crushed between a cargo ship and the Agua Clara lock gate. In this incident crisis was averted, however, safety officials now have concerns that such a tragedy is an “accident waiting to happen”.

There are many risks for those working in the maritime industry, including ship collisions. When these incidents occur, it is important for anyone injured to understand their legal rights and any options they may have for recovering compensation. The maritime injury lawyers at Kherkher Garcia can help.

Read below for more information on maritime collision risks, common causes and injuries, and how maritime workers can get help.

Panama Canal Near-Miss Maritime Collision

The near-miss incident in October is just one of many similar incidents over the past two years. According to reports, the containership OOCL Utah nearly collided with the Agua Clara lock gate, nearly crushing a tug boat. The pilot was told that the stern tug was coming from another job, but they did not wait to move into the canal. Another tug boat was used to stop the massive container ship before it collided with the gate, crushing the other tug boat.

Had a collision occurred, authorities say that it would have been disastrous in many ways. Primarily, tug boats are not equipped with ladders or other safety gear. Had the tug operator fallen into the water, they would have been sucked under with little chance of rescue. There is also the risk of damage and disruptions to canal operations. A maritime collision involving a lock gate can cause disruptions for months. In 2021, a similar incident in the Suez Canal caused massive supply chain disruptions and cost millions of dollars.

The Panama Canal pilots’ union blames the near-miss on insufficient procedures and under-resourcing by the Panama Canal Authority. They argue that pilots are incentivized to prioritize speed, potentially leading to risky shortcuts. The union demands improved safety measures, including a speed limit and mandatory rest periods for tug crews.

Common Causes of Cargo Ship Collisions

Cargo ship collisions can occur due to various factors. Unfortunately, most maritime collisions are avoidable with proper training, maintenance, and safety protocols. Some of the more common causes of cargo ship collisions include:

  • Human Error: Mistakes by the crew, such as errors in navigation, misjudgment of distances, fatigue, inadequate training, or failure to adhere to safety protocols.
  • Poor Communication: Ineffective communication between ships, maritime authorities, or inadequate understanding of each other’s intentions can lead to misunderstandings and collisions.
  • Distractions: Crew members being distracted by personal devices, fatigue, or lack of focus on the navigation tasks can lead to errors resulting in collisions.
  • Inadequate Lookout: Failure to maintain a proper lookout by the crew to identify potential risks or hazards in time to take preventive action.
  • Weather Conditions: Poor weather like heavy fog, storms, high winds, or rough seas can impair visibility and make navigation challenging.
  • Mechanical Failure: Malfunctions in the ship’s equipment, propulsion systems, steering mechanisms, or other critical components can contribute to collisions.
  • Navigation Hazards: Presence of obstacles such as icebergs, floating debris, poorly marked navigation routes, or incorrect chart data can cause collisions.
  • Traffic Congestion: In busy shipping lanes or congested ports, increased vessel traffic raises the risk of collisions due to the proximity and movement of multiple ships.

Adequate safety measures and training are crucial to preventing incidents like these from occurring. Adherence to international maritime regulations, improved training for crews, the use of advanced navigation technologies, effective communication protocols, and continuous maintenance of vessel systems can significantly reduce the likelihood of maritime collisions.

Common Injuries in Maritime Collisions

Maritime collisions can result in various injuries to crew members or individuals on board. Some common injuries that may occur during such incidents include:

  • Cuts and bruises: Due to sudden impacts or being thrown against hard surfaces during a collision, crew members may sustain cuts, bruises, or abrasions.
  • Fractures and broken bones: The force of a collision can cause severe impacts, leading to fractures or breaks in bones, especially if crew members are thrown or crushed by shifting cargo or equipment.
  • Head and brain injuries: Severe collisions can cause head injuries ranging from concussions to traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). TBIs often have long-term consequences.
  • Back and spinal injuries: The impact of a collision can result in back injuries, strains, sprains, or even damage to the spinal cord.
  • Internal injuries: Blunt force trauma from a collision can cause internal injuries such as organ damage, internal bleeding, or injuries to the abdomen or chest.
  • Burns: If a collision leads to a fire or explosion on the ship, crew members may suffer burns. These injuries can range from mild to severe depending on the extent of the fire.
  • Psychological trauma: Being involved in a collision at sea can also cause psychological trauma. This can lead to conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other mental health issues.

In the event of a collision, prompt medical attention and treatment are crucial to ensure the wellbeing of those involved. Additionally, prevention measures and safety protocols onboard ships can help mitigate the risk of such incidents and reduce the likelihood of injuries.

How Can Maritime Workers Get Help after a Collision Injury?

Maritime workers who sustain injuries in a collision at sea have legal rights and avenues to get help. It is important to take measures to protect oneself after a maritime injury. Some of the steps that maritime workers can take include following a collision injury include:

Report the Incident

Immediately report the collision and injury to the vessel’s captain or superior. Document the incident as thoroughly as possible, noting the date, time, location, and circumstances of the collision.

Seek Medical Attention

It is crucial to seek medical attention promptly. Notify the ship’s medical personnel or get to the nearest medical facility for treatment. Ensure that the injuries are documented by medical professionals.

Notify the Employer

Inform the employer or shipowner about the accident and injury as soon as possible. They are required to be notified within a certain timeframe under maritime laws.

Document Everything

Keep copies of all medical records, accident reports, and any communication related to the incident. This documentation will be crucial when filing a claim or seeking compensation.

Cooperate with Investigations

Be prepared to cooperate with any investigations conducted by authorities or your employer regarding the collision. Provide accurate information and adhere to any legal proceedings.

Consult a Maritime Injury Lawyer

Contact a maritime injury lawyer who has experience handling injury claims involving collisions. Maritime law is complex and differs from traditional workers’ compensation or personal injury laws. Having legal representation by a lawyer familiar with these laws is crucial.

Know Your Rights

Maritime workers have rights under laws like the Jones Act, which provides protections and remedies for injured seamen. Additionally, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) covers maritime workers not covered by the Jones Act, such as dockworkers, harbor workers, and others.

File a Claim

With the assistance of a maritime injury lawyer, you may be able to file a claim for compensation. These civil lawsuits can provide compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages resulting from the collision.

Remember, maritime law can be complex. Seeking legal advice from a specialized lawyer is highly recommended to ensure the protection of your rights and to navigate the complexities of the legal process effectively.

Benefits of Contacting a Maritime Injury Lawyer

Contacting a maritime injury lawyer is highly advisable after any type of maritime injury. Maritime law differs significantly from standard personal injury law, involving a unique set of rules, regulations, and statutes specific to maritime accidents. A knowledgeable maritime injury attorney possesses the expertise and experience necessary to navigate these intricate laws. This ensures that you understand your rights and can pursue the compensation you rightfully deserve.

Moreover, maritime injury cases often involve multiple liable parties, such as shipowners, employers, third-party contractors, or manufacturers. A skilled maritime lawyer comprehensively investigates the incident, identifies all responsible parties, and develops a strategic legal approach to hold them accountable. These attorneys are adept at handling negotiations with insurance companies, advocating for fair settlements, or, if necessary, representing clients in court. Their specialized knowledge not only maximizes the chances of obtaining adequate compensation but also helps alleviate the stress and complexities of the legal process. This allows you to focus on your recovery with peace of mind.

Start Your Maritime Injury Consultation

Maritime collisions are among many potential risks in the maritime industry. At Kherkher Garcia, we have been helping maritime workers protect their rights for more than 30 years. Our team understands maritime law, potential obstacles in the legal process, and how to ensure you get the best outcome possible.

Start your free maritime injury consultation by calling us at 713-333-1030 or by completing our online contact form. We are here to help you obtain justice and the compensation that you deserve.

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Kevin Haynes

Kevin Haynes

Firm Partner and Trial Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Injury Trial Lawyer and Firm Partner Kevin Haynes. Kevin has been a practicing injury lawyer for more than 15 years. He has won $150 Million+ in Settlements and Verdicts for his clients. Kevin is powerful and effective in the courtroom and the trial lawyer you want on your side if you or a loved one have been seriously injured at work or on the road.

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