Ship fires are among the most dangerous and dreaded onboard accidents, which can lead to serious injuries and deaths. While passengers on vessels are at risk, the workers and crews of commercial ships are in the greatest danger of being harmed in a ship fire. If you work on a vessel of any kind and have been injured by a ship fire, you can seek damages to cover medical care, lost wages, and other expenses.
How Fires Start on Ships
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There are several 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, and a fire is most likely to start in the engine room.
Why Are Maritime Fires So Dangerous?
If your house catches on fire, you can leave and stay safe with your pets and family. 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.
The situation is different if you are on a ship that has caught fire. 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 no firefighters with high-powered hoses exist.
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 and are full of cargo and equipment, accidents can happen while workers rush to navigate the ship during a fire. Collisions, falling cargo, trips, falls, overboard, and being trapped by 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 directly from:
Negligence and Prevention in Maritime Fires
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, fires are more likely to occur if workers are not adequately trained to work with the equipment on a ship or if the electrical systems have not been updated or maintained.
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 common, and many tragic stories have been reported.
High Fatalities in 1930 Ship Fire
In 1930, SS Morro Castle caught fire while taking passengers from Havana, Cuba, to New York. The ship beached in New Jersey and had to be scrapped entirely. The accident led to the deaths of 137 people, both passengers and crew members.
The incident was terrible, 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.
Cruise Ship Fire
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 didn’t harm anyone, one passenger fell overboard and died.
The fire cut out all services on the ship, leaving thousands of people without plumbing and electricity for days while the vessel 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 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.
The fire started with an explosion in the engine compartment. Luckily no one was injured, but the boat was completely destroyed.
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 the right to seek compensation according to maritime law.
You are entitled to seek money to cover your medical bills and 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.