Work Boat and Crew Boat Accidents
Small work boats and crew boats are as prone to accidents as larger vessels and are covered under major maritime laws such as the Jones Act. A seaman can be anyone that works aboard or near a vessel, but the Act, otherwise known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, has been clarified by the U.S. Supreme Court over the years. It has said, to be covered, the individual must be assigned to the vessel in question and working on a navigable waterway. Their job duties must be directly related to the mission or function of the ship, and the nature of the injury and its timing must be connected to it.
These vessels are also covered under the Death on the High Seas Act, which applies to wrongful deaths that occur over three nautical miles from the coast. It also includes aircraft-related deaths that happen at a distance of over 12 nautical miles from land. The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act covers a range of workers, from longshoremen and harbor workers to outer continental shelf drillers to government contractors. It provides for lost wage compensation, medical benefits, and rehabilitation.
Small boats and their crews are tasked with various types of work. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA), Office of Marine & Aviation Operations runs the Small Boat program, which includes a 400 plus boat fleet. These vessels are involved in hydrographic surveys, water/air quality monitoring, scientific instrument deployment and recovery, and other activities.
Such vessels, however, don’t need to be operated by the government for employees to be protected under the law. Crew boats regularly transport cargo, personnel, and supplies such as water to other ships, rigs, and oil platforms. One might be as small as 30 feet, but they can operate hundreds of miles offshore.
The types of hazards per a NOAA risk assessment include exposure to cold water and injuries that occur with fishing operations. Vessels can capsize, while fires, collisions, and machinery and equipment failures can occur as well. Fuel discharge can pollute the environment, and there is the risk of instruments and gear being lost, jeopardizing missions and causing lost time.
Structural failures, underwater hazards, man overboard, groundings, and stability issues are listed as risk factors. Collisions with other vessels are too, and fires can be problematic, especially on an aluminum hulled vessel. Issues with crew training and certification can cause accidents. There is also the issue of long work hours and fatigue as part of the human systems failures that can occur.
Equipment problems and human error can lead to avoidable injuries and deaths, as well as lawsuits. Back, neck, and head injuries; burns; and exposure to toxic fumes can be too. Negligent parties responsible for the vessel must compensate a victim if one can prove their actions contributed to the cause of an accident.