There are many potential dangers in the maritime industry from sinking ships to dropping heavy cargo. Any of these many incidents can cause workers to be injured or even killed. One potential danger that most maritime workers face is the possibility of an explosion. Many ships carry flammable materials, like petroleum products and if an explosion does occur, it can cause terrible and tragic results.
Over the years many maritime workers have seen explosions happen and some have been injured in them. Less fortunate workers have even been killed in these events. Maritime explosions have occurred on oil and gas platforms, on ships, and in ports and on docked ships. No maritime worker is safe from the possibility that an explosion could happen, but all have a right to seek compensation if injured in one of these unfortunate incidents.
Causes of Explosions
The root cause of any explosion in the maritime industry is a material that is flammable or that reacts with another chemical in an explosive manner. A spark, a fire, contact between two chemicals that should have been separated, are all possible causes for explosions on ships, in ports, and on oil platforms. Although these are the causes, they are preventable. The real causes of these incidents are negligence.
Explosions may happen, but they are not normal. This is a type of accident that employers, ship owners, and workers are supposed to take steps to prevent. When an explosion does occur, workers are expected to have been trained to deal with it, to evacuate safely and to take all steps to curb the damage and harm as much as possible.
Types of negligence that may lead to an explosion include equipment and machinery that is faulty, or that has not been maintained properly, poor training of workers who handle flammable materials, poor design of oil wells and equipment, improper storage of chemicals, faulty electrical systems that cause fires to start, and improperly maintained storage equipment that may leak or spill, among many other possibilities.
Types of Injuries
Explosions have the potential to be among the most devastating of all maritime accidents because they are powerful and far-reaching. In the worst scenarios, explosions lead to fatalities. In other instances they can cause a number of injuries, which may range from severe and debilitating to mild and not serious. These include burns, both from fire and from chemicals, inhalation injuries to airways, lost limbs, head and back injuries from being thrown or struck by an object, lacerations and cuts, and others.
Examples of Maritime Explosions
It is unfortunate that there are so many examples of explosions that have occurred in the maritime industry, but these instances occur regularly and often create a media spectacle. One of the most infamous of all explosions that occurred recently is the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling unit that triggered the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Deepwater Horizon was operating to drill oil for BP when an explosion happened on April 20, 2010. It occurred offshore, about 40 miles southeast of Louisiana. The cause of the explosion was a blowout, which occurred as a bubble of methane climbed the drill column and expanded rapidly. The explosion was followed by a fire that ultimately caused the drilling unit to sink into the Gulf of Mexico. The accident led to the deaths of eleven workers. Seventeen others were injured.
Explosions on ships are also possible and many have occurred to varying degrees. In 2011 several explosions rocked an Indian oil tanker the MT Prem Divya. The cause was a spark from welding. The tanker had been cleared for welding work, which means that it had been emptied of oil and cleared of any flammable gases. Although it had been cleared, it obviously still had flammable gas that was sparked by the welding. Three workers on board the ship died, at least one was seriously injured, and another was missing and presumed dead.
Explosions in the maritime industry are not limited to ships and oil wells. Explosions can also occur in ports, as was the case in the huge and disastrous explosion that occurred at the Port of Tianjin in China in 2015. Almost 200 people died and hundreds more were injured in the massive blast that happened in a container storage area in the port.
Investigations into the explosion found that the immediate cause was stored dry nitrocellulose that had gotten overheated. The investigations also found that the storage site included hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate and potassium nitrate, chemicals that are highly explosive. Several other hazardous chemicals were also stored there.
The incident was made even worse when the firefighters arrived and sprayed water on calcium carbide. This caused the release of a flammable and volatile gas, acetylene, which according to investigators, likely triggered the explosion of the tons of ammonium nitrate. Not only did this huge blast kill and injure nearly 1,000 people, it caused a big environmental problem too with the leaking and spilling of all the hazardous chemicals.
Rights for Maritime Workers
In all of the examples above, and in many other instances of maritime explosions, terrible and disastrous explosions were ultimately caused by some type of negligence. The storage of chemicals at Tianjin was an accident waiting to happen, while the design and operation of the Deepwater Horizon oil well included several faults that increased the risk of a blowout, explosion, and fire. Employers of the workers hurt and killed in these incidents often face charges of negligence.
Employers in the maritime industry have a responsibility to take safety seriously and to prevent incidents, like explosions, that can cause injuries and deaths to workers and others. When they fail, those workers suffer. They may face injuries that leave them disabled and in pain for life, while fatalities leave dependent and grieving families behind. These workers and their families are changed forever and have to live with these tragedies for the rest of their lives.
The good news is that maritime workers and their families have rights. Workers on ships, in ports, and on offshore rigs all have rights under the law to seek compensation in the wake of an accident. Families of those who die are also extended those rights. Getting compensation is important because it can pay for medical care and rehabilitation; it covers lost wages and future lost earnings because of a disability; it even covers pain and suffering and the trauma that something like an explosion can cause. If you have been devastated by an explosion at a maritime job, let a maritime lawyer help guide and represent you as you seek to claim your rights.