Accidents occurring on maritime vessels, in maritime ports, and even on offshore rigs are always possible, but there are some factors that make them more likely to happen. Responsible employers and workers can prevent many accidents would otherwise lead to very serious consequences: injured workers, fatalities, property damage, environmental disasters.
One very simple way to prevent maritime accidents is to have a very strict policy regarding drugs and alcohol. Most maritime companies do address this issue and ban substance use on the job, but banning drugs and alcohol is just one step. The ban must be enforced. When workers, especially crew handling large ships, are under the influence, they can cause accidents that lead to terrible consequences. If you have been injured at a maritime job because someone was abusing drugs or alcohol, you could have a strong case to get compensation from your employer.
The Effects of Being under the Influence
Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol means being impaired. Alcohol is a substance that acts like a depressant. That means it slows down the central nervous system, heart rate, blood pressure, and more. The normal functioning of the brain becomes delayed in someone drinking alcohol. Alcohol also affects how a person processes information, hand-eye coordination, and the ability to make sound decisions.
Drugs can affect a person in a number of different ways, depending on the drug. Both prescription drugs and illegal drugs have the ability to affect judgment, memory, motor skills, visual acuity, ability to concentrate, reaction time, and other factors that impair a person’s ability to operate machinery, a vehicle, or a seagoing vessel.
There are many jobs in the maritime industry that are already dangerous. These jobs require workers to be alert and to pay attention. They also must be able to make quick and sound decisions about what to do next or how to react to something that has changed. If someone piloting a vessel, moving heavy cargo, or operating a vehicle in a busy terminal is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it presents major dangers to everyone in the area.
The Employer’s Responsibility
There is certainly individual responsibility involved when someone in a maritime position decides to drink or use drugs on the job. That person can face serious legal consequences in the aftermath of an accident that causes someone to get hurt or killed. There is, however, responsibility on the part of the maritime employer.
A responsible maritime company will have a strict policy regarding the use of drugs and alcohol. Employers may be expected to test their workers on a regular basis in order to enforce a ban on substance use. Random testing is a practice that can deter drug or alcohol use in workers on the job. Employers must also go another step further and report positive tests of workers to the U.S. Coast Guard and to remove anyone from a position if the use of substances puts others at risk.
Maritime Accidents with Drugs and Alcohol
There are far too many examples of maritime accidents in which blame can be put on drug or alcohol use. In the infamous case of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, for instance, the captain of the large oil tanker was found to have been drinking alcohol. Ultimately witnesses testified that he had seemed sober, but the question has always remained and some still believe that alcohol played a role in the accident, which was one of the worst environmental disasters of all time.
More recently, in 2007, another ship’s captain was blamed for an oil spill because of being under the influence. The pilot operating the Cosco Busan between San Francisco and Oakland in the San Francisco Bay ran the oil tanker into the Bay Bridge. This resulted into a significant spill of heavy fuel oil into the bay. The pilot was later found to have been using prescription drugs that impaired his ability to use the electronic navigation system and radar and this directly led to the crash with the bridge.
One of the most tragic examples of a maritime crash involving drugs or alcohol occurred in 2003 when the Staten Island Ferry did not slow down as it approached the dock in Manhattan. It was the first crash in the ferry’s 98-year history of going back and forth between the two New York City islands. More than 70 people were hurt in the crash, and eleven people were killed. Later the ferry’s captain operating it at the time was found to have been using Tylenol PM and tramadol, a prescription painkiller. The combination of substances led to the captain losing consciousness as the ferry approached the dock. He was eventually sentenced to 18 months in prison.
What to Do after an Accident
The consequences of a maritime worker operating a ship or other type of equipment under the influence can be devastating. They too often are disastrous and include injuries and fatalities. No one should be operating any type of vehicle while using drugs or alcohol, let alone the captains of large vessels carrying oil and other products. If you have been the victim in an accident that was caused by someone being under the influence, you may be suffering from serious and long lasting injuries. If this is the case, you can seek compensation by appealing to maritime law.
The first thing you need to do after such an accident is to get medical care and an accident report. Documentation for both will help you make your case as you seek the money you need to get back on your feet. Which law applies to you will depend on your position, but a maritime lawyer can help you figure it out. This professional can also help you decide what steps to take next and can be your representation throughout the process. If someone was drinking or using drugs, law enforcement will probably get involved and this may be part of your case too. Make sure your lawyer is the person you trust to guide you through this difficult process.