Cargo Ship Accidents

In 2014, the Danish cargo ship Svendborg Maersk was caught in hurricane-force winds in the Atlantic Ocean off France, causing 520 containers to be lost, according to CNN. Many stacks onboard had collapsed as well. The MV Tricolor, a Norwegian-flagged vessel, collided with another container ship off the French coast in the English Channel (per a Marine Insight story). No crew members were killed, but nearly 3,000 cars, tractors, and crane parts were lost. The loss of cargo isn’t the only concern with accidents involving these ships. Another vessel crashed into the wreck two days later, which was carrying flammable gas oil, and a salvage tug incident on the same site triggered a large oil spill when it damaged equipment on the vessel initially involved in the accident.

Even more recently, the Navy destroyer Fitzgerald collided with a container ship in June 2017. Seven crew members aboard the destroyer were killed, and part of the vessel’s side caved in. The cargo ship continued toward its destination before turning around and returning to the site. There was no warning of an impending collision, and the destroyer was allegedly being navigated by a computer at the time.

Consequences of Cargo Ship Incidents

Vessel accidents can result in massive losses of valuable goods. Oftentimes these are harmless, but sometimes dangerous freight is lost as well. Accidents can and do result in injuries and deaths. Working on a cargo vessel doesn’t come without risks, as workers routinely handle equipment that can lift and place very heavy objects, and they must traverse busy decks and climb ladders.

Injured workers can receive compensation via laws that are similar to workers’ comp ones covering employees of land-based companies. These include the Jones Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. Maritime workers can receive compensation for injuries suffered on the job, or a family member can be compensated should a loved one be killed in the line of duty. To be compensated, the employer or vessel owner must be found negligent, and this must be proven to have caused the accident.

Liability may not only be based on personal injury claims. Damage to oil tankers can cause ecological disasters, even if there is just a small rupture in the hull. Vessel owners can, therefore, be held liable under environmental laws. International law may come into play if a ship sinks in foreign waters, and must be salvaged and recovered.

Causes of Cargo Accidents

To determine liability, the cause of the accident must be determined. A cargo mishap may occur because of:

  • Inadequate equipment
  • Poor maintenance
  • Lack of training
  • Risky behavior or poor pacing
  • Negligence of the employer

Common injuries include those to the head and back, as well as fractures. Although working on a cargo vessel is physically demanding, workers are encouraged to recognize the dangers that are out of the ordinary.

The National Transportation Safety Board oversees marine accident investigations, including those involving cargo vessels. It also makes available accident reports, including those for fires, groundings, collisions, and weather-related accidents.

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