The modern maritime industry revolves around the companies that make it all happen: oil and gas exploration and development companies, container shipping companies, ferry and passenger companies, cruise ship companies, commercial fishing companies, and many, many more. These companies range in size from one vessel and a handful of employees to fleets in the 100s with employees at locations around the world.
Types of Vessels Used by Maritime Companies
There are so many different types of maritime companies and different types of ships and vessels used by those companies depending on what services they offer. To list them all would take a book, but there are some general categories that can be considered that cover the bulk of the industry:
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- Tankers. Tankers are ships that are specially designed for carrying liquid, a lot of it. This could be oil, gas, water, chemicals, and even beer or wine. Most of these ships are further specialized based on what type of liquid it carries. For instance there are tankers that carry chemicals, those that carry fuel for other ships, and even those that are used to carry edible oils.
- Container ships. Container ships carry most of the good that are transported around the world. They are huge and typically have one deck that is designed to fit several layers of large shipping containers. Although big, these ships can be manned by just a handful of people.
- Bulk carriers. These are similar to container ships, but they carry raw materials like metals, coal, metal ores, or anything mined out of the ground. These ships carry solid materials, whereas liquids are transported by tankers. This difference means that the ships have big differences in how they are designed and built.
- Ro-ro ships. Ro-ro stands for roll on-roll off. These are ships especially designed for shipping cars and other vehicles. Instead of using cranes to lift vehicles onto a ship which uses energy and time and can be dangerous, these ships are equipped to allow workers to simply drive the vehicles on and off.
- Passenger ships. Passenger ships are mostly ferries and cruise ships, but technically may include any vessel that carries more than 12 people as passengers. Ferries may traverse lakes and rivers or may take people across harbors and bays on ocean coasts. Cruise ships range in size from small to huge ships that carry thousands of passengers and they travel throughout the world on oceans, rivers, and lakes.
- Fishing vessels. Fishing vessels are used to catch fish and other marine creatures, like lobster, crabs, and mussels to name just a few. These are among the most dangerous ships on which to work and fishing maritime companies may have anywhere from one to hundreds of vessels in a fleet. The ships may also vary a lot in size, from huge ocean-going ships trawling for schools of fish, to smaller harbor-based ships.
- Specialty vessels. In addition to these basic categories, there are all kinds of specialized vessels. For instance, among fishing vessels there are those specialized for crabbing and others for catching large ocean fish. There are also such specialty ships as tugboats, pilot boats, ice breakers, offshore oil drilling ships, and research vessels.
Employment in Maritime Companies
Maritime companies employ a lot of people to work both on the vessels and in the ports that receive and launch ships. Seamen are those employees who spend the majority of their time on vessels out to sea, while longshoremen are those that work mostly in port. Among seamen, there are captains and mates, deckhands, cooks, fishermen, and divers. In ports longshoremen are responsible for various jobs like loading and unloading cargo, operating machinery, making repairs to ships, cleaning ships, and working in port warehouses.
Maritime companies involved in oil and gas recovery employ workers that may not be considered seamen or longshoremen. These workers are employed on the platforms out on the continental shelf that drill for natural resources. These workers may operate the machinery or perform other services on the platform such as cleaning or cooking or may even be the workers that transport personnel and goods to and from the platform.
Maritime companies are subject to a special set of laws in addition to the typical laws of their country and international laws. Maritime law is designed to protect workers and companies must respect these laws to keep their employees safe and to compensate them if they are injured on the job. When it comes to paying out for an injury on the job, not all companies are faithful in following the letter of the law and may try to get out of paying as much as a worker is owed.
The Jones Act is a law that protects seamen and allows them to seek compensation if hurt while performing a job out at sea. The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act provides a source of workers’ compensation for the people doing the dangerous work in a port. For workers on oil and gas platforms, neither of these laws applies, but they can seek compensation under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act in the event of an injury. There are several other laws that maritime companies must follow, like maintenance and cure and the Death on the High Seas Act.
Injuries and Accidents
Maritime work is dangerous, among the most dangerous kind of work in the world. Maritime companies must take on the risk of having workers injured or even killed on the job. From accidents out at sea to bad weather and rough seas to equipment failure or poor decision making in port, there are so many ways that maritime workers can get hurt.
Ships may capsize or sink and cause people to drown. Falls into the water can lead to drowning or hypothermia. Explosions, fires, and chemical exposure are all possible on tankers and while cargo is loaded and unloaded in ports. Slips and falls are common on ships and in ports. The equipment used in many maritime industries can also hurt or kill people. Untrained workers are especially dangerous and can lead to unnecessary accidents like burns, lost limbs, being crushed, drowning, head injuries, broken bones, and more.
Maritime Challenges all Companies Face
The maritime industry can be a lucrative one, but it also presents many challenges. Maritime companies have to deal with the safety of employees for one thing. There are so many things that can go wrong and cause injury or death, but these companies have a responsibility to minimize the risks as much as possible. Accidents in the industry can also cause huge environmental problems, oil spills being the obvious example. Maritime companies must take all reasonable steps to avoid these and face the consequences if the worst happens.
Less obvious, but still very real challenges include piracy. Pirates are not just from the past. They exist today and attack ships to steal goods being shipped. This has been especially prevalent on the eastern coast of Africa, but it happens all over the world. Finally, companies have to deal with cyber security as the industry becomes ever more reliant on technology.
Injured Maritime Workers
When workers are injured in the maritime industry, maritime companies, or their insurance companies, must pay reasonable compensation. There are laws to protect these workers to ensure that they get compensation, especially if the company was negligent in some way.
If you are a maritime worker and you were hurt on the job, you can turn to an experienced maritime lawyer to find out what steps to take next. Many maritime companies will do what they can to minimize the cost of an accident, which may mean trying to deny you the money you are owed. Never accept an offer of compensation or sign any documents after an accident before you have spoken to a lawyer who can explain your rights.