Tanker accidents can lead to serious environmental pollution and result in injuries and fatalities for workers aboard those vessels. If you work on a tanker, understand your rights, including a reasonably safe work environment. If you are injured on a tanker, you have rights under maritime law to seek and receive compensation.
What Is a Tanker?
A tanker is a large ship, usually ocean-going, which transports fluids, liquids, and gases. Most tankers carry some form of petroleum or oil product. This could include crude oil, liquefied petroleum, liquefied natural gas, or crude petroleum.
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Tankers may also carry other types of liquids, even water or toxic chemicals. Because most tankers carry large amounts of substances that are either flammable, explosive, corrosive, toxic, or in some other way harmful, tanker work is dangerous.
Types of Tanker Accidents
Accidents with tanker ships have serious consequences. They are large ships that require skill to operate and navigate. Accidents can happen for any number of reasons, but often negligence plays a role.
Perhaps most famously, the captain of the Exxon Valdez, which hit a reef in the 1980s and spilled an unprecedented amount of oil, was fired for drinking on the job.
He was given an alcohol test ten hours after the accident and was found to be intoxicated while operating the ship. Negligence or the cause of a tanker accident is not always as apparent as a drunk captain, though, and there are many other ways an accident may happen.
The most common types of accidents with tankers include:
- Running aground or into reefs in shallow waters
- Colliding with other vessels or structures like bridges
- Fires or explosions aboard the ship
- Equipment failures
- Chemical leaks
These kinds of accidents often occur near shore, sometimes right in port while loading or unloading cargo. This is why such collisions make such big news stories.
When spills occur close to shore, miles of coastline, reef, and other natural areas are affected. Wildlife is killed, and people who rely on fishing in those areas are also impacted.
Tanker accidents are often preventable, and many are considered to be caused by negligence. Negligence occurs aboard tankers when:
- Workers are not adequately trained to work aboard the tanker
- Safety equipment or training is inadequate
- Supervisors fail to monitor workers and their actions
- Equipment has not been adequately maintained
- The ship has not been adequately maintained
- Navigation has not been done correctly
Not every accident is preventable, but most can be traced back to some failure on the part of those people responsible for the safe operation of the ship. When just one of these things is overlooked, it can spell disaster, and people can get hurt.
Common Injuries Aboard Tankers
Collisions and running aground, the most common types of accidents with tankers, often receive the most attention for the environmental damage these accidents cause. They can also injure workers, causing:
Fires and explosions aboard tankers are uncommon and can cause serious worker injuries or deaths. Tankers carry liquids that are flammable, toxic, or both. Injuries associated with fires and explosions include:
- Smoke inhalation
- Toxic fumes inhalation
- Drowning from going overboard in an attempt to escape the fire
Other kinds of accidents, which may occur in any type of large ship due to equipment not working correctly or poorly trained workers, include broken bones, wounds, contusions, head injuries, back injuries, repetitive stress injuries, lost limbs and amputations, falling overboard, drowning, and hypothermia.
Examples of Tanker Accidents
The Exxon Valdez grounding and spill is one of the most infamous tanker accidents, but many more such incidents make the news each year.
In Morocco in 2013, bad weather was to blame for a tanker running aground. Because of the weather, the ship stopped near rocky shoals and dropped anchor to wait it out before entering the port. Rough waters and the wind carried the tanker onto rocks.
No one was injured, but the ship was stranded and required significant effort to rescue. This incident demonstrates that negligence, although often to blame, is not always the cause of a tanker accident. Sometimes natural occurrences send ships swinging off course and into danger.
Fire on a Tanker
A fire caused another tanker accident in 2013 aboard a Turkish ship near the coast of Italy. The workers aboard the tanker had to be rescued but were not injured.
The investigation of the accident found that the cause of the fire was an electrical short circuit. Proper electrical maintenance could have prevented the fire, the need for rescue, and the damage to the vessel. Although no one was injured, the incident was expensive.
In San Francisco in 2013, the pilot of a tanker caused it to collide with the Bay Bridge, although no oil was spilled into the Bay.
The pilot is hired locally to bring large ships into port. This pilot had years of experience captaining and piloting tankers, yet still had this accident and a few other prior incidents, including collisions and running ships aground.
The incidents illustrate the challenges of the job and how individuals can cause severe damage. Five years earlier, a similar crash in the same spot caused a massive spill of heavy bunker fuel into the Bay. One person’s misjudgment can have serious consequences when a large tanker is involved.
Rights to Compensation After a Tanker Accident
If you work aboard a tanker, you risk your health and life every day you go on the job. No matter how experienced the crew or responsible the ship owner and employer are, tankers are dangerous workplaces.
As a seaman on one of these ships, you are protected by maritime and can receive compensation if you are injured. If you are killed on the job, your dependents may also have the right to receive compensation.
The Jones Act
The Jones Act is a maritime law that protects seamen when they have been injured on the job and when that injury resulted from negligence. As a worker aboard a tanker, you most likely qualify as a seaman.
If you qualify and can prove that your employer’s negligence played at least a small role in the accident that injured you, you have the right to file a claim and seek damages.
The law compensates for medical expenses, lost wages, future earnings, pain and suffering, and other costs. If your loved ones lose you to such an accident, they also have these rights to compensation.
Working with a Maritime Lawyer
Whether the accident that resulted in your injury, illness, or death was truly accidental or involved negligence, you are entitled to compensation for medical expenses and lost income.
Contact a qualified and experienced maritime lawyer if you have not been adequately compensated for a tanker accident or injury. An attorney working in maritime law can help you determine which laws cover you and can help you make a claim and get the appropriate amount of compensation.