Although it isn’t immediately obvious, experienced mariners know that ship fires are among the most dangerous and dreaded of onboard accidents. It might seem, to those with little experience on boats, that a fire while surrounded by water isn’t such a big hazard. The truth, though, is that shipboard fires are dangerous and can lead to serious injuries and deaths.
Fires at sea have injured and killed thousands of people over the years, and while passengers on boats are at risk, it is the workers and crews of commercial ships who are in the greatest danger of being harmed in a ship fire. If you work on a ship of any kind and have been injured by a ship fire, you have a right to seek damages to cover medical care, lost wages, and other expenses incurred by the incident.
How Fires Start on Ships
There are a number of ways that a fire might start aboard a ship. Faulty electrical wiring is one. A short in the electrical system can easily start a fire. An overheating engine or motor may also start a fire, and a fuel leak can either start a fire or make a fire much worse. Fires may also begin in the galley with the stove or other cooking equipment. The most common cause of shipboard fires is related to equipment malfunction of some kind and a fire is most likely to start in the engine room.
Why Fires are Dangerous
If your house catches on fire, you can leave and take pets and family with you to stay safe. You can also call the fire department and they will rush to the scene to put out the fire using city hydrants on the street. If you are on a ship that has caught fire, the situation is different. The only escape is overboard, either with or without a lifeboat. Putting a fire out on a ship is also more challenging. It may be surrounded by water, but there are no firefighters with high-powered hoses.
While ships have plans in place for putting out fires when at sea, actually doing it is challenging. If the fire can’t be put out, crew members may have no choice but to go overboard. A fire that gets out of control can sink a ship. Even if the fire eventually gets put out, in the meantime it can cause all kinds of dangers to the workers aboard the ship.
Because ships usually have tight spaces are full of cargo and equipment, accidents can happen while workers rush to navigate the ship during a fire. Collisions, falling cargo, trips and falls, falls overboard, and being trapped by a fire are all possible scenarios. Workers on ships with fires may suffer burns or injuries from smoke inhalation. In the worst case scenarios, ship fires lead to fatalities either directly from the fire and smoke exposure or from going overboard and drowning or being exposed to cold weather and water.
Negligence and Prevention
Although accidents can happen unexpectedly, many ship fires could have been prevented. When a cause is found for the fire that was preventable, the owner of the ship may be found negligent. For instance, if workers are not properly trained to work with the equipment on a ship or if the electrical systems have not been updated or maintained, fires are more likely to occur. Safety training is also a big issue and when workers are not trained in procedures or given the right equipment, a fire may cause injuries or fatalities that could have otherwise been prevented.
Examples of Ship Fires
Ship fires are not uncommon and many tragic stories have been reported over the years. Back in 1930 the SS Morro Castle caught fire while taking passengers from Havana, Cuba to New York. The ship beached in New Jersey and had to be completely scrapped. The accident led to the deaths of 137 people, both passengers and crew members. The incident was a terrible one, but it did spur changes in ship fire safety and led to the inclusion of fire doors, fire alarms, drills, and safety procedures and the use of fire-retardant materials on ships.
In 2013, a cruise ship fire occurred on a ship carrying over 3,000 passengers and more than 1,000 crew members. While the fire itself didn’t harm anyone, one passenger fell overboard and died and the fire cut out all services on the ship, leaving thousands of people without plumbing and electricity for days while the ship was towed to port in Mobile, Alabama. A later investigation found that the cruise line knew there was a risk on that ship that the fuel hoses could leak and start a fire. The disaster could have been prevented.
It isn’t just cruise ships that catch fire. In January of 2014, a high speed hydrofoil river ferry in Vietnam experienced a fire that was so severe it destroyed the entire boat and forced 85 passengers to jump overboard. Luckily no one was injured, but the boat was completely destroyed. The fire started with an explosion in the engine compartment.
Rights for Injured Workers
Working on any vessel means taking risks on the job, but fires are especially dangerous and preventable. If you are injured during a fire you have rights to compensation according to maritime law. You are entitled to money to cover your medical bills and for living expenses while you recuperate. If you can prove that negligence was involved in the fire, you may also be able to file for further damages.
Under the Jones Act, negligence allows you to get additional money for lost wages and mental anguish. If you die aboard a ship your loved ones also have rights to compensation for lost wages, pain and suffering, and funeral expenses. If you don’t understand your rights or need guidance if you are being denied compensation, you can count on a maritime lawyer to help you file your claim and get money for your injuries.