Deep Sea Fishing Boat Accidents

Deep sea fishing is a dangerous and demanding occupation. Those who go out on fishing boats, whether for commercial or recreational reasons, may face some risks. Poor working conditions, bad weather, tiring work, and long hours can all be taxing. Deep sea fishing generally takes place miles from shore, and some fishing boats are at sea for days or weeks at a time. Yet, fishing is a necessary commercial business and provides many tons of seafood and fish to people across the country and the world. In 2015 the commercial fishing industry in the U.S. harvested more than 9.7 billion pounds of seafood.

Types of Deep Sea Fishing Boat Accidents

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that it is one of the most hazardous jobs in the country with a fatality rate that is 29 times higher than the national average. There are various types of accidents that may occur when deep sea fishing. These include falling overboard, vessel disasters, deck accidents, and diving accidents. Additionally, there could be injuries that happen on or near these vessels when they are on shore.

  • Falling Overboard
    Working on a fishing vessel can be unsafe, particularly when the ship is in unsteady waters or in poor weather conditions. Those on board face a serious threat of falling overboard. An estimated 30 percent of fatalities on these boats happened because a worker fell overboard. Of the deaths, 46 percent were not witnessed. It is important to note that none of the people who died by falling overboard were wearing personal flotation devices (PFD).
  • Vessel Disasters
    Approximately half of all commercial deaths happened as a result of a vessel disaster. Vessel disasters encompass a variety of issues including flooding, being struck by a huge wave, instability or unseaworthiness, and severe weather conditions.
  • Deck Accidents
    Deck accidents occur for a number of reasons. About 12 percent of deaths on fishing boats happened due to an accident on the deck. Slip and fall accidents are among the most common and can be exacerbated by the use of dangerous high power equipment such as winches and hydraulic haulers.
  • Diving Accidents
    Diving is a necessity in many commercial fishing operations. Diving may be needed to aid in fishing as well as to maintain or repair boats and other equipment in the water. Divers may run out of oxygen, could come to the surface too quickly or may experience equipment malfunctions underwater. Additionally, the operation of equipment underwater could pose a danger for injuries.

In addition, accidents may also occur onshore. These could include dock injuries, falling into the water, slip and falls, lifting injuries and injuries caused by equipment. In some cases, workers may face dangers from exposure to hazardous chemicals. Approximately 9 percent of injuries occurred onshore.

Fishing Boat Accident Statistics

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) gathers and analyzes data on these accidents in the U.S. It maintains comprehensive data with a Commercial Fishing Incident Database (CFID), which provides a method of tracking maritime deaths in the commercial fishing industry.

There are approximately 115,000 commercial fish harvesters in the country. They operate a variety of equipment and vessels. In the years from 2000 through 2015, there was an average of 42 deaths a year, a total of 725 fishermen, which works out to about 117 deaths per 100,000 workers. The average among all U.S. workers is just four per 100,000.

NIOSH provides five-year data updates on separate commercial fishing areas in the U.S. including the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska, East Coast, West Coast, and Hawaii/Pacific. Vessel disasters were a leading cause of East Coast fatalities in the period from 2010 through 2014, accounting for 37 percent of deaths. These disasters were most commonly caused by the vessel being struck by large waves and by flooding. Another 37 percent of fatalities in this region resulted from drownings by falling overboard.

In the Gulf of Mexico, about half of all fatalities were due to vessel disasters followed closely by fatal falls overboard. This data is from the same period between 2010 and 2014. Some of the most common causes of vessel disasters during that time were collisions, instability, flooding, fire or explosion and being struck by a large wave.

The West Coast has similar data for the same time period. Disasters affecting the vessel accounted for 60 percent of all fatalities aboard a commercial fishing boat. Falls overboard reached 13 percent of deaths with the causes including such things as becoming entangled in gear and being knocked into the water by gear. The fatalities involved workers who were not wearing personal flotation devices.

Injuries that occur on boats that are of the deep sea variety may be worsened when medical help is not immediately available. The vessel is likely miles from shore and getting the injured person to the hospital could be difficult and lengthy. Companies must have an emergency plan in place to provide immediate care to those who are seriously injured.

Legal Protections after Fishing Boat Accidents

The Jones Act offers protections for those who were injured as a result of a maritime accident including commercial fishermen. In cases where the injury was the result of negligence on the part of the boat owner, the victim or his family could be entitled to compensation. Some types of negligent actions include the failure to maintain a safe workplace, mechanical mishaps due to improper maintenance, inadequate supervision, lack of inspections, failure to have safety measures in place, and the failure to properly train employees.

The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) allows family members of victims who were killed in maritime accidents the ability to recover damages for an employer’s negligence. The law applies to spouses, children and other dependents of a maritime employee who died in international waters.

Cases involving injuries and deaths at sea can be complex, especially in cases where jurisdiction is in question. The laws are designed to help those injured and their families get justice. In addition to maritime laws, general case law often provides some guidance in specific cases. Those injured should speak with an attorney as soon as possible after the incident.

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