Maritime environments are among the most hazardous workplaces. Seamen, longshoremen, and offshore workers face numerous risks on the job, from drowning, to hypothermia, to falls, to broken bones, and even deaths caused by malfunctioning heavy equipment or from drowning. What these workers also face is the possibility of workplace violence. Assaults, fights, and other types of violence are more common in maritime workplaces than you might realize.
Any workplace could be the site of assault, but in the cramped and often stressful working conditions of a ship at sea, violence is more likely. Most of the assaults that have been recorded on ships have been on cruise ships, but seamen aboard fishing vessels, cargo ships, and other 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 have a right to compensation. Let an experienced maritime lawyer help you get it.
Violence at Sea
The FBI keeps statistics about crimes reported on ships at sea, and many of them are violent crimes. Both physical and sexual assaults are not uncommon, and the most likely place in which they occur at sea is on cruise ships. Passengers are too often the victims of assaults by other passengers or by crew members. 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 occurred in private cabins and were related to alcohol use. About two percent of the incidents occurred between two workers on the ship.
During the five-year period in which 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 domestic disputes, but on commercial vessels, most violent attacks were fights between two workers that escalated into physical violence.
What Causes Violent Incidents?
Although many cruise ship incidents can be attributed to alcohol and domestic disputes, or a combination of the two, attacks, fights, and physical assaults on commercial vessels are usually different. One major contributing factor may be the mental health and stability of workers aboard ships. Spending weeks or months on a ship at sea is not easy and not everyone copes with it 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.
For perfectly health workers aboard a ship, the lengthy stays out at sea can be trying. 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.
Even those people who are not mentally unstable can become violent aboard a ship under extreme duress. Spending so much time with so few people, especially with tough working conditions can be stressful. Many workers may cope by drinking or using drugs, which only agitates individuals further 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 may 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 as a result of being inebriated. In the most severe cases, ship violence or a fight that gets out of control could even lead to someone being killed, either right away or later from injuries sustained.
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, sprains, eye injuries, cuts, gun wounds, puncture wounds, and even 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 the injuries, from not having access to emergency medical care, or from being pushed overboard during a fight or assault.
Reducing Workplace Violence
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, workplace violence is a possibility anywhere, but can also be prevented by taking the right precautions. As a worker on board a ship, you expect that your employer will 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. Employers have a responsibility, especially in the special work environment of a ship, to ensure that violence is prevented as much as is possible.
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 any violence will not be tolerated and will result in the loss of one’s job. On ships at sea, it is also crucial for employers to consider the mental health of employees. Workers with histories of violence are not suitable for working under the stressful conditions on a commercial vessel, for instance. Employers can screen for this and limit hires to those with clean records and no history of mental illness.
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 have a responsibility to provide workers with conditions that are livable, with time for breaks, and with healthy diversions to occupy workers during down time. These simple steps can keep workers satisfied and able to cope with the otherwise stressful lifestyle of being out to sea for long periods of time, away from family and working long, strenuous hours.
Victims of 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. The cruise line is responsible for their employers and for ensuring that they will not attack or harm passengers. It is up to the company to screen employees, to fire those that have exhibited violent tendencies, and to put in place procedures that minimize violent conflict, such as limits on serving alcoholic drinks.
If you are a worker aboard a commercial vessel and have experienced violence, you also have rights. If you qualify as a seaman, you may seek compensation under the Jones Act. If you don’t qualify under the definition of a seaman, there are likely to be other federal maritime laws that cover you. Compensation if you are injured in any way on the job 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 as the result of 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 through the process.