Violence is unfortunately common in the cramped and often stressful working conditions of a ship at sea. Maritime physical and sexual assaults most commonly occur on cruise ships, but seamen aboard all kinds of vessels are also at risk of being victims of violence. If you have experienced an assault on a ship or in another maritime work environment, you can seek compensation.
Facts About Violence at Sea
The FBI keeps statistics about crimes reported on ships at sea, many of which are violent crimes. While assaults occur on commercial vessels, most violent crimes at sea occur on cruise ships.
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- Both physical and sexual assaults are not uncommon, and they most likely occur at sea on cruise ships.
- According to the FBI, 55 percent of sexual assaults and 22 percent of physical assaults investigated at sea occurred aboard cruise ships.
- The FBI determined that most of these cruise ship assaults occurred in private cabins and were related to alcohol use.
- About two percent of the incidents occurred between two workers on the ship.
- Sexual assaults on ships often go unprosecuted.
- During the five-year period these statistics were collected, the FBI recorded 53 physical assault cases aboard ships at sea.
- Of those, 13 occurred on commercial vessels, while the rest were aboard cruise ships.
- Most of these violent incidents were conflicts between two adult males.
- On cruise ships, there were many domestic disputes
- On commercial vessels, most violent attacks were fights between two workers that escalated into physical violence.
Sexual Assault at Sea
Sexaul violence at sea is all too common with women the primary victims. More than half of sexual assaults at sea occur on cruise ships. Victims include passengers and crew members.
Women crewing other commercial vessels are also often victims of sexual assault. Sexual assault is any kind of unwanted sexual behavior imposed by force, coercion, threats, or manipulation.
According to a recent international survey, 25% of women reported some type of physical or sexual assault while working on vessels. The incidence is likely higher, as many victims never report incidents.
The issue of sexual assault at sea is exacerbated by the low number of women in the industry, but companies are taking notice and making important changes. Transocean has committed to increasing the number of women in its maritime workforce from 1.3% to 25%.
High profile cases reported by female mariners and seamen have also helped push changes. The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is working to change the culture by revoking the licenses of mariners convicted of sexual assault.
What Causes Violent Incidents at Sea?
Although many cruise ship incidents can be attributed to alcohol and domestic disputes, attacks, fights, and physical assaults on commercial vessels are usually different.
One major contributing factor in violent crimes on ships is the mental health and stability of workers. Spending weeks or months on a ship at sea is difficult, and not everyone copes well.
All that time being cooped up, with little room to stretch, no solid land, missing family and friends, and spending all day and night with the same people can be stressful, even for the most emotionally stable workers.
The lengthy stays out at sea can be trying even for perfectly healthy workers aboard a ship. If any worker has an underlying mental illness, these stressful conditions at sea may trigger symptoms, make a condition worse, and eventually lead to violent conflict.
Workers can become violent aboard a ship under extreme duress. Spending so much time with so few people, especially with harsh working conditions, can be stressful. Many workers may cope by drinking or using drugs, which only aggravates difficult situations and can lead to violent outbursts and fights.
Injuries Caused by Violence
Assaults and other types of violence aboard ships at sea can have serious consequences. Many of these incidents are fights between two or more workers. They may be simple fist fights but also escalate and involve weapons like guns or knives.
Drunken encounters may contribute to the violence but can also cause workers to suffer more injuries due to intoxication. In the most severe cases, ship violence or a fight that gets out of control could even lead to someone being killed immediately or later from sustained injuries.
When assault or fights break out on a ship, some of the more common injuries that result include:
- Head and back injuries
- Neck injuries
- Broken bones
- Eye injuries
- Gun wounds
- Puncture wounds
- Mental health symptoms
An assault at sea may trigger anxiety, depression, or even post-traumatic stress disorder in the victim, immediately or later.
In the worst cases, violence can lead to fatalities. A victim may die from injuries, not having access to emergency medical care, or being pushed overboard during a fight or assault.
Reducing Workplace Violence at Sea
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, while possible in any industry, workplace violence can be prevented by taking the right precautions.
Employers have a responsibility, especially in the unique work environment of a ship, to ensure that violence is prevented as much as possible.
As a worker on a ship, you expect your employer to make conditions as safe as possible. This includes obvious things like training workers and providing safety gear, but it also includes providing working conditions that are not conducive to violence.
Zero-Tolerance on Violence
One way in which an employer can reduce violence is to have a zero-tolerance policy, a strict but effective strategy for curbing violence. This sends the message to workers that violence will not be tolerated and will result in losing one’s job.
Managing Mental Health
On ships at sea, it is also crucial for employers to consider the mental health of employees. For instance, workers with histories of violence are unsuitable for working under stressful conditions on a commercial vessel. Employers can screen for this and limit hires to those with clean records and no history of serious mental illness.
Providing Livable Conditions
Even those workers with no history of violence or mental illness may instigate or be the victims of assault aboard a ship because of the working conditions. Employers are responsible for providing workers with livable conditions, time for breaks, and healthy diversions to occupy workers during downtime.
These simple steps can keep workers satisfied and able to cope with the otherwise stressful lifestyle of being out to sea for long periods, away from family, and working long, strenuous hours.
Victim Rights After Physical or Sexual Assault
Victims of sexual assault and other types of violence aboard ships have a right to compensation. Passengers aboard cruise ships may seek compensation from the cruise line if assaulted and injured by a crew member.
Employers are responsible for their employees and ensuring they will not attack or harm passengersor other crew members. It is up to the company to screen employees, fire those that have exhibited violent tendencies, and put in place procedures that minimize violent conflict, such as limits on serving alcoholic drinks.
If you don’t qualify under the definition of a seaman, there are likely to be other federal maritime laws that cover you. If you are injured in any way on the job, compensation should be provided to cover your medical bills, mental health care, lost wages, and other expenses like pain and suffering or trauma and stress.
If you die due to violence on the job, your dependent survivors are also entitled to such compensation. Figuring out what you are owed is complicated and confusing, but a maritime attorney can help guide you.