Maritime Acts – Overview

Numerous laws have been passed over the years to protect U.S. marine interests and employees who sustain injuries, illnesses, or death while on the job. They are followed by agencies such as the United States Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, and even the National Transportation Safety Board, which oversees marine accident investigations via its Office of Marine Safety. Here is an overview of some of the major maritime safety acts passed and enforced by the U.S. government.

Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA): Passed in 1927, the LHWCA addressed the issue of courts denying compensation and benefits to maritime workers injured while on the job. Providing compensation, medical benefits, and vocational rehabilitation to employees other than the crew, it applies to any work-related injury, disability, or death. The Act applies to job injuries on navigable waters and areas for loading, unloading, building, or repairing a vessel. It also calls for survivor benefits to be provided to the employee’s dependents should their injury result in death.

Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA): The U.S. government enacted this law to recompense families of shipmen who lost their lives while working. It was signed into law in 1920 and amended in 2000 to cover claims for deaths in accidents/mishaps involving aircraft. Damages are determined by how much is lost financially due to a lack of a seafarer’s income. For this law to apply, a death must occur more than three miles from the U.S. coast and be directly caused by negligence or unlawful acts.

Suits in Admiralty / Public Vessels Act (PVA): Allows for legal action against the U.S. if an injury to a government employee happens aboard a government owned or operated vessel. One may receive damages, in addition to compensation for towage and salvage services. Suits can also be brought against foreign owners of damaged vessels. This applies only if an American national could file a lawsuit in the claimant’s country, given a similar set of circumstances.

Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA): Provides the Secretary of the Interior with authority to oversee mineral exploration and development involving submerged lands within three miles of the coast, and gave the government jurisdiction of land within this zone. The Act became law in 1953. It originated from disputes involving crude oil and natural gas along the California coast, triggering wells to be drilled on beaches.

Limitation of Liability Act: Enacted in 1851, the act allows ship owners to limit liability related to anything that diminishes the value of their vessel and freight. It applies specifically when negligence or unseaworthiness cause the loss in question. Originally passed to aid the growth of American shipping and merchant fleets, it permits limitation actions within six months of the shipowner being notified (in writing) a claim was filed regarding an incident.

Maritime Legislation that Protects You

Various maritime legislations protect people. They include the Jones Act, which determines the U.S. owned vessels that may engage in trade within the United States, and calls for workers injured in maritime jobs to receive compensation and medical care until they can return to work. The Passenger Services Act controls the operation of ships that carry passengers, defined as any occupant other than a crew member of ship’s master, and calls for the inspection and licensing of any vessel that transports passengers.

Violation of Safety Regulations

Violators of marine safety regulations can face stiff penalties. Employers are expected to make places of employment reasonably safe, particularly in how they install, furnish, and maintain equipment. Violation of maritime act provisions may require employers to pay compensation and other damages. It is also unlawful for an employer to discriminate against or terminate a maritime employee for filing a claim or testifying. Who is covered under the law, responsible for compensating one for injuries/illnesses, and liable depends on the law, statute, and the circumstances of the incident.

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