Commercial Fishing Accidents – Vessel Disasters

Commercial fishing is a highly dangerous occupation and requires a high degree of physical and mental fitness to undertake. Working and living in close quarters in conditions far more challenging than a shore-bound worker, it’s easy for mistakes to be made that can seriously injure someone or cost them their lives. Commercial fishermen and women place themselves at risk every day. While the high wages are a great incentive, they don’t always compensate you sufficiently when vessel disasters strike.

Fishing Vessel Disasters

Disasters can strike on fishing vessels at any time, for a variety of reasons, leaving a trail of injury, disease, and death in their wake. Common disasters that strike commercial fishing vessels include:

  • High seas of over 25 feet
  • Rapid weather changes
  • Mechanical failures
  • Fires
  • Explosions
  • Crew members caught in equipment
  • Crew falling overboard

Depending on the type of vessel, the disasters can be quite different. Factory trawlers may have different hazards than those found on fish processing vessels, crab boats or oyster dredgers. The crew may become caught in lines and nets being hauled overboard, causing amputations or drowning, or they may have body parts crushed in processing machinery.

In many cases, fires and explosions can break out due to:

  • smoking on board in contravention of smoking policies
  • engine room malfunctions
  • improper ventilation of exhaust and bilge areas
  • poor storage practices for hazardous chemicals and dirty rags
  • galley mishaps

All of these circumstances can contribute to fishing vessel disasters.

Commercial Fishing Injuries

Maritime workers on commercial fishing vessels are exposed to high risk of injuries ranging from mild to serious. Aside from the minor bumps and bruises common when working on an ocean-going vessel, commercial fishermen can incur serious injuries, such as:

  • dismemberment from equipment, nets, and lines
  • traumatic brain injuries
  • paralysis from falls or colliding with fishing equipment
  • serious infections leading to gangrene or cancer
  • cancers from exposure to carcinogenic chemicals
  • serious burns from vessel fires
  • death from drowning, explosions or other head injuries

Commercial Fishing Employer Duties

Every maritime employer has a duty to ensure that the vessel they provide is seaworthy, that competent crew are hired and adequately trained and that the operator of the vessel acts in a competent manner. Too many vessel disasters have occurred or were made worse because:

  • the vessel was not fit for its intended purpose
  • the captain was negligent in some way
  • the crew was not trained to handle emergencies or to prevent hazards

If you are injured due to the negligence of your employer or captain, you have significant rights not available to land-based workers.

Protection for Commercial Fishermen

Understanding the inherent risks taken by maritime workers, state and federal maritime laws were enacted to protect the rights of commercial fishermen and women in the U.S. Laws such as the Jones Act entitle commercial seamen to financial compensation for living expenses, medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

When you are injured, your employer is responsible for providing you with maintenance and cure benefits, regardless of whether your injury was caused by someone’s negligence. Maintenance and cure benefits include:

  • reasonable and necessary living expenses
  • medical expenses
  • some level of wage replacement

If your injury was due to the negligence of someone, whether it was your employer for not providing a seaworthy vessel, your captain, for giving orders to enter into unsafe waters or your fellow crew members for failing to carry out their duties, you have the right to sue your employer directly. Jones Act negligence damages can include:

  • past and future lost wages
  • payment for retraining
  • pain and suffering
  • emotional distress
  • past and future medical expenses

As a commercial seaman, you place your life at risk every day, so it makes sense that you are protected by laws in the event that you are injured.

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