Maritime workers and seamen are not restricted to those workers who operate the ship, handle cargo, or man the fishing equipment. There are all kinds of maritime workers who contribute to the operation of vessels at sea. Many ships go out to sea for days, weeks, and even months at a time and the cooks and stewards are vital members of the team. All types of seagoing vessels have a cook aboard to prepare meals for the crew. On passenger ships, like cruise ships and charter boats, the cook prepares meals for the crew and the passengers. These passenger vessels also have stewards on staff to attend to the needs of the passengers.
There are many ways in which stewards and cooks aboard ships put themselves in danger on the job. As is the case with other types of crew members, these workers are vulnerable to the injuries that can result from collisions, rough weather, repetitive stress, improperly stored cargo, and other incidents. Stewards and cooks may also face dangers from unhappy passengers or from malfunctioning boat equipment. If you work as a vessel cook or steward and have been injured on the job, you may be entitled to compensation.
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Common Cook and Steward Accidents
All people aboard a ship are vulnerable to certain types of accidents. A lack of training for any crew member could lead to an accident that injures anyone aboard the ship. Inadequate safety equipment or poorly maintained equipment that is used to do regular jobs aboard the ship can lead to accidents. If cargo aboard the ship isn’t stored properly a steward or cook could be exposed to dangerous chemicals or be injured by falling or shifting items. A slippery or crowded deck could cause a worker to fall overboard and suffer hypothermia or even drown. All workers, including cooks and stewards, could be harmed in these kinds of incidents.
There are also more specific types of accidents and incidents that cause injuries to cooks and stewards. Equipment in the galley, if not in working order, could cause an injury to the cook or could even lead to a fire, burns, smoke inhalation, and even a need to abandon ship in the worst case. Working with sharp knives is always risky, but when waters get rough a vessel cook injury is much more likely. Electrical problems in the galley can lead to shocks or fires. Finally, unsanitary conditions in a galley can cause the cook to get sick.
A steward aboard a passenger ship is susceptible to many of the same injuries and accidents that other crew members are. Stewards may work in the galley close to the cook and be at risk for similar accidents. Stewards also work closely with passengers and may be vulnerable to attacks by angry or intoxicated guests aboard a ship.
Examples of Accidents
In one dramatic incident that occurred with a ship off the coast of Nigeria, a cook was lucky to survive. The ship had capsized and most of the crew drowned. Rescue divers were surprised and thrilled to find the cook still alive in the overturned ship, having found a pocket of air in the galley. As with anyone aboard a vessel, cooks are vulnerable to drowning incidents and may not be this lucky.
In Washington in 2012 another ship cook lost his life from falling overboard from a Columbia River sternwheeler. The boat was moored in Rainier and had not been wearing any type of life preserver. His body was found and he had been wearing a bulky coat that probably contributed to his drowning. In another incident in 2013, a steward on a ship registered in Hong Kong fell and died in an on board accident. Carrying a stack of dishes up a flight of stairs, the steward lost balance when the ship rolled slightly. The fall was unfortunately fatal.
Common Cook and Steward Injuries
Cooks and stewards are vulnerable to a wide variety of accidents while working on the job. Like other workers they can fall victim to bad weather, a fall overboard, tripping and falling over cargo, or slipping on a wet deck. Although there are these kinds of accidents common to all maritime workers, some injuries are more common to stewards and cooks. These include:
- Cuts from knives and other galley equipment
- Bruises, broken bones, fractures, or head injuries from slip or trip and falls
- Back or neck injuries from lifting and repetitive stress
- Burns and electrical shocks caused by malfunctioning equipment
- Injuries or fatalities from falling overboard
Getting Help as an Injured Cook or Steward
If you work aboard a ship as a cook or steward you are entitled to compensation if you are injured on the job. If your employer or employer’s insurer has refused the compensation you believe you deserve, you can make claims under federal maritime law to get that money for things like medical expenses, continuing care, lost wages, lost future earnings, and pain and suffering. If you do get injured, the first thing you should do is get medical care and make sure you get the record for these services. You also need to file an accident report with your supervisor with as much detail of the accident as possible.
To determine what compensation is owed you and under which laws, use the guidance of an experienced maritime lawyer. This professional can help you figure out what steps to take next and can represent you if your case goes to court. In the tragic event that you die aboard a ship, your dependent family members have these rights as well and can rely on an experienced attorney to guide them through the processes of making a claim and getting compensation.