Limetree Bay Explosion Case Study: Avoidable Risks Related to Maritime Accidents
Maritime and harbor workers, known as longshoremen, are no stranger to dangerous situations. From working with dangerous equipment to dealing with hazardous situations such as inclement weather or the high seas, injury and even death are risks that every worker should be well aware of. However, despite advances in safety on vessels, avoidable accidents still occur too frequently. This is especially true for those working aboard a vessel as a member of the crew (captain, deckhand, engineer, etc.) and even as a Longshore Worker (building, repairing, loading or unloading a vessel).
Those that work in the marine industry, such as ship captains and crew members (sailors and seamen), or those who unload, load or build and repair vessels, known as Longshore workers, are confronted by multiple dangers that could befall them. However, those who work on the water – Great Lakes, Inland Rivers or the High Seas – are confronted with high-risk situations that other land-based workers are simply not exposed to.
You could be an extremely cautious and experienced maritime worker, yet, your life could be put at risk by factors outside your control. Your employer, fellow employees, and even nature itself can present multiple dangers that result in a marine accident. Operators of pleasure boats are also at risk when transiting waters used by commercial maritime interests. Knowing what to look for and learning from the mistakes of others could save you from a serious injury, or even save your life.
Causes of Maritime Accidents
Although not always the case, negligence and poor judgment by an employer or ship owner/operator can be the cause of a maritime accident. Some accident involve errors in navigation that lead to collisions, while others are purely commercial. These accidents typically fall into two major categories: recreational boating accidents and commercial boating accidents. These types of Accidents include:
· Boat and cruise ship accidents such as collisions, fires, running aground, sinking, capsizing, passenger over-board, and many more.
– collisions between commercial vessels and pleasure boats.
· Offshore oil rig accidents, including explosions, heavy equipment failure and misuse, falls.
· Tanker accidents, such as explosions and oil spills.
Weather and nature can be a factor in an accident when coupled with negligence and poor judgment. However, most accidents that end in a lawsuit are caused by human error, which are usually avoidable. In many cases, rules and regulations are neglected or ignored by either the worker or the employer, causing a high risk of danger. The U.S. government passes many laws and regulations that protect maritime workers and passengers. These laws and regulations are supported by the National Transportation Safety Board and enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard. Causes may include:
· Failing to follow navigational rules, which could result in collisions and groundings. Such rules include maintaining a safe speed and being vigilant and aware of your surroundings to avoid an accident or collision.
· Ignoring warnings about weather and the environment. Many regulatory groups and the U.S. Coast Guard will issue warnings about the condition of water travel. Choosing to ignore these warnings could result in an accident that is avoidable.
· Distraction on the part of a vessel operator. In the age of cell phones, we’re all aware of the distraction they pose to drivers of automobiles. This distraction poses the same risk to anyone operating a vehicle or vessel. Boating laws prohibit the use of cell phones while operating a vessel, stating that it is in violation of the responsibility to maintain lookout.
· Inexperience and negligence. According to statistics, 75% of cruise ship fires are caused by human error. This statistic increases to almost 90% on oil tankers and cargo ships for any accident. This means that almost 90% of accidents are avoidable.
Limetree Bay Explosion Examined
In 2017, Limetree Bay Terminals experienced an explosion at one of its oil storage facilities on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. Fortunately, no one was killed during the explosion, even though the closest person was only 50 feet from the generator that exploded.
Reports have concluded that the explosion was the direct result of having not only an insufficient number of people working (known as a skeleton crew), but having only inexperienced crew members. According to reports, no one working at the time knew what to do to prevent an explosion or what to do after an explosion. This is failure of the employer, since it has a duty to train its employees.
Furthermore, Limetree could be in violation of employment safety regulations by neglecting to fix a breached roof. Dangerous working conditions at Limetree were the result of rain seeping in through the breached roof and pouring onto high voltage electronic equipment. The moisture in the air caused by the unpatched roof is thought to be the cause of the explosion.
Besides the explosion and the danger of electrocution due to the moisture in the air, other risks include a damaged stack that has yet to be fixed and could fall on anyone at anytime.
The Limetree explosion and safety violations that contributed to the explosion should serve as a warning for employers who expose employees to similar conditions. Longshore and harbor workers could find themselves in similar situations if their employer does not follow a safety-first philosophy. It seems that some shipping and other maritime companies sometimes choose to run on a skeleton crew or may hire more inexperienced workers to save money, but then fail to properly train them. They might also neglect to fix equipment or facilities. If you find yourself in such a situation, it is important to inform OSHA and the proper authorities if you know your employer is aware of these problems but refuse to remedy them. Your safety and life are at risk.
Your Protections under the Law
As a maritime worker covered under the Jones Act or a longshore or harbor worker protected by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, you may work in naturally hazardous conditions. However, all accidents are avoidable. As in the case of Limetree, the explosion was a result of negligence. In other words, the accident was avoidable. As a maritime worker, you may be confronted by the same risk of injury or death as the workers at Limetree.
Many maritime accidents occur because of negligence or conscious disregard of safety regulations by an employer, manager or vessel operator. However, if you are injured, know that you are protected under the maritime law and can take legal action to recoup any losses suffered from an accident that causes you injury. A family member or legal dependent can also take legal action in the event of your death.
However, taking legal action requires a lot of time, paperwork, and knowledge. If you’ve been injured, or if a family member has died as a result of a maritime accident, you shouldn’t leave your rights up to chance. Without the proper support and legal counsel, you are at risk of being taken advantage of by either an employer or insurance company. By having strong legal counsel and representation, you give yourself the best chance possible to receiving the compensation you deserve.
Your pain and suffering shouldn’t go unanswered if it was caused by negligence of another. The lawyers at Moschetta Law specialize in admiralty and maritime law. We will fight for your right to obtain the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for an evaluation of your case.