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. 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.
Tanker accidents can lead to serious environmental pollution, which tend to be the kinds of accidents with these big ships that make the news, but they also result in injuries and fatalities for workers aboard those vessels. If you work on a tanker you need to understand your rights. Your employer is responsible for providing a work environment in which all safety precautions have been taken. If you are injured on a tanker you have rights under maritime law to seek and receive compensation.
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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 obvious as a drunk captain, though, and there are many other ways in which an accident may happen.
The most common types of accidents with these large vessels include running aground or into reefs in shallow waters, as the Exxon Valdez did, colliding with other vessels or structures like bridges, and fires or explosions aboard the ship. These kinds of accidents most often occur close to 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.
Other kinds of accidents that can occur on tanker ships include equipment failures or failing engines, failed electrical and short circuits, leaks of chemicals from storage, and structural failures aboard the vessel. Each of these kinds of accidents is 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 properly maintained
- The ship has not been properly 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
These kinds of accidents with tankers can lead to any number of injuries for workers aboard the ships, and in the worst case scenarios can even cause fatalities. Collisions and running aground, the most common types of accidents with tankers often receive the most attention for the environmental damage these accidents cause, but they can also injure workers. Collisions can cause broken bones, head injuries, falls overboard, and even deaths. A collision with such a large ship is a violent event and even the most experienced seamen may fall, trip, go overboard, or be struck by equipment or cargo.
Fires and explosions aboard tankers are also not uncommon and can cause serious worker injuries or deaths. Tankers carry liquids that are flammable, or toxic, or both. Injuries associated with these types of accidents include burns, smoke inhalation, toxic fumes inhalation, and even drowning from going overboard in an attempt to escape the fire. Workers may also die directly from an explosion.
Other kinds of accidents, which may occur on any kind of large ship due to equipment not working properly 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 of all tanker accidents, but many more such incidents make the news each year. In Morocco in 2013, bad weather was to blame in the case of 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 wind carried the tanker onto rocks. No one was injured, but the ship was totally stranded and required great effort to rescue. This incident demonstrates that negligence, although often to blame, is not always the cause of a tanker accident. Sometimes natural occurrences are send ships swinging off course and into danger.
A fire caused another tanker accident in 2013, this one 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 and the need for rescue, as well as 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 someone who is hired locally to bring large ships into port. This pilot had years of experience captaining and piloting tankers, and yet still had this accident as well as a few other prior incidents including collisions and running ships aground. The incidents illustrate the challenges of the job and how individuals can cause serious damage. A similar collision in the same spot five years earlier caused a massive spill of heavy bunker fuel into the Bay. Just one person’s misjudgment can have serious consequences when a large tanker is involved.
Your Rights to Compensation
If you work aboard a tanker you put your health and your life at risk every day you go on the job. No matter how experienced the crew or responsible the ship owner and employer, tankers are dangerous workplaces. As a seaman on one of these ships you are protected by maritime laws so that you can receive compensation if you are injured. If you are killed on the job, your dependents may also have the right to receive compensation.
As a worker aboard a tanker, you most likely qualify as a seaman. 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. If you do qualify, and you 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 provides for compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, lost future earnings, pain and suffering, and other costs. If your loved ones lose you to such an accident, they have these rights to compensation too.
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 think 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.