Sinking or capsizing are two of the worst-case scenarios for anyone working in the maritime industry. These kinds of events lead to injuries, illness, and in the worst situations, drownings and fatal hypothermia. If you have been injured in a sinking event or lost a loved one to a ship sinking, you have a right to seek compensation.
Why Ships Sink
News stories about devastating accidents at sea prove that ships, even very large ones, can capsize and sink in the right conditions. It can be hard to believe that such well-engineered and massive vessels can fail so spectacularly, but they do.
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There are many reasons why this might happen. Unfortunately, in many cases, the underlying cause is negligence. Many ship sinkings, and the resulting fatalities, could have been prevented.
- Weather. Bad weather is a significant cause of capsized and sunken ships. Modern ships are much better at coping with storms and rough waters than ships of the past, but they are still vulnerable. The weather is often to blame in the few cases where sinking is a complete accident. Even when bad weather is the cause, capsizing can sometimes be prevented. Storm tracking and navigation should allow captains to change course to avoid hazardous situations. Even so, some ships get caught in rough waters and high winds and lose control.
- Collisions and running aground. A collision can rip a hole in a ship’s hull and cause it to sink quickly. Collisions with other ships, docks, bridges, rocks, and reefs, and with the ground in shallow waters represent another common cause of a ship capsizing and sinking. Navigation and piloting should be able to avoid these errors, but sometimes accidents happen, especially in crowded harbors.
- Human error. A captain guiding a ship has a heavy responsibility, and any error they make could cause the ship to sink. A captain sometimes has to make quick decisions; when those decisions prove wrong, the result can be disastrous.
- Flooding. When a ship takes on water, it becomes less buoyant and may start to take on more water. The effect is a chain of events often leading to a sunken or capsized ship. Flooding may occur because of bad weather, a leak in the ship, or a collision with an object.
- Shifting cargo. When cargo isn’t stored correctly, it may shift around below decks on a ship. This shifting can cause many safety problems, including falling objects that injure workers. In some rarer instances, shifting cargo can upset the balance of a ship and cause it to roll. When this effect is extreme, it may even cause the boat to take on water, capsize, and sink.
Ship Sinking and Negligence
It is possible that these causes of a sinking ship can be purely accidental. Bad weather, poor visibility, or a judgment call that seemed prudent at the time can all lead to sinking.
On the other hand, many of these accidents can be avoided with precautions:
- Human error can be significantly reduced with proper training of workers.
- Collisions can be avoided in most situations when navigation is done correctly.
- Shifting cargo should not be a problem if it is stored and secured correctly.
- Flooding caused by leaks can also be avoided when ships are maintained and repaired regularly.
Examples of Sunken or Capsized Ships
A ship may sink for many reasons, but when people lose their lives, those reasons become even more critical. Sunken ships make the news because they are usually big disasters, especially when carrying passengers, like ferries or cruise ships.
Ferry Capsized in South Korea
For example, when the large ferry that sank in South Korea capsized in 2014, it was carrying nearly 500 passengers, mostly young students. The cause of the capsizing was a sudden turn that led to a shift in the cargo, which in turn caused the boat to list and capsize.
The disaster could have been prevented if the cargo had been secured correctly and had not been dangerously overloaded.
Cruise Ship Sank in China
In 2015 a cruise ship on the Yangtze River in China sank with more than 450 passengers aboard. The sinking happened quickly and is thought to have been caused by weather, an actual accident. A tornado hit the cruise ship suddenly and unexpectedly.
Tragically, only a handful of passengers were rescued, and the rest died drowning in the river. While investigations continued after the incident to discover what could have been done differently, it seemed the weather was the real culprit.
Greek Cruise Ship Sank in South Africa
Another cruise ship incident involved the Greek ship MTS Oceanos, which sank in 1991. The luxury cruise ship was chartered out of South Africa and sank off that country’s coast when a storm triggered leaks in the hull and engine room. The leaking was eventually enough to sink the ship.
The cruise ship had been inadequately maintained and repaired after its previous charter voyage. Heading into its fateful last journey, it was in disrepair. It had loose hull plates, stripped check valves, and a bulkhead hole between the sewage tank and generator room.
Negligence was also found in the actions of the captain and crew as the ship sank. They abandoned the vessel without sending out an alarm. Passengers and entertainers were left to find a way to signal for help.
Container Ship Sank in the Caribbean
It isn’t just ferries and cruise ships capable of capsizing or sinking during voyages. In late 2015, a large container ship, El Faro, sank in waters east of the Bahamas. The sinking occurred during Hurricane Joaquin.
It is thought that the ship was trying to outrun the storm, but what really happened is unknown. Searches for the sunken ship and any survivors were halted.
Searchers were also looking for the ship’s black box to determine what happened to the ship and its crew. All that was known was that the captain reported that the ship had lost power and was taking on water.
This clearly led to its sinking, but what caused the power outage remains a mystery, as does any negligence that may have been involved.
Rights for Workers and Their Survivors
A ship sinking or capsizing is a terrible event. If you have lived through one, you may not have come out of it unscarred. You may have experienced physical injuries and may be living with psychological consequences from the trauma.
Either way, these injuries will likely impact you over the long term and may even prevent you from returning to work. As a maritime worker, you have rights under federal laws that should compensate you for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
You also have rights if you lose a loved one working aboard a sunken ship. Survivor benefits go to dependent family members to cover the cost of lost wages, pain and suffering, and funeral expenses.
For anyone injured or lost a loved one in one of these maritime disasters, a professional and experienced maritime lawyer can assist and represent in getting compensation, even when an employer or ship owner has denied it.