Alaska is a big state with a sparse population and a big maritime industry. With the most coastline of any other state in the country, maritime work is a big part of Alaska. Many of the residents of the state live in coastal areas, where fishing, crabbing, container shipping, cruise lines, harbor work, and other maritime jobs are popular. If you live in Alaska and work in the maritime industry, you have a lot of job opportunities.
You also have a lot of risks when working on or near the water, especially in Alaska where weather and ocean currents conspire to make conditions rough and dangerous. What makes maritime jobs here even more hazardous are employers and ship and boat owners who are negligent in providing adequate training for workers, seaworthy vessels, and maintaining fishing and shipping equipment. If you work in the state and are injured in a maritime job, you have options for seeking compensation, thanks to federal and state programs. A good maritime lawyer can help you figure out what steps to take.
Crabbing and Fishing in Alaska
The most dangerous of all maritime jobs is working aboard a fishing boat, which crabbing in Alaska coming in as the most hazardous of all fishing jobs. This job is so dangerous that reality shows demonstrating the excitement of handling the heavy equipment, battling big waves, and severe weather while crabbing have been popular with viewers. Crab boats go out from Alaskan harbors during the fall and winter when the water is at is roughest, and the weather is coldest.
These workers, as well as those on other types of fishing vessels, spend long, physically-demanding hours on the decks of fishing boats, hauling in heavy catches and just trying to stay upright in the swells. Crabbers and fishermen face the risk of being injured by the fishing equipment, hypothermia from cold temperatures, wind, and water, the possibility of falling overboard and being lost, and being injured in any number of other accidents.
In just one of many examples of how dangerous this job is, a man was lost at sea and presumed dead in 2014 when he fell overboard while working on a fishing vessel in the Bering Sea. The exact cause of his fall was unknown, but winds at the time were up to 35 miles per hour and waves were up to ten feet high. It was likely these rough conditions that caused him to fall into the below-freezing water. A fall overboard in such conditions is typically fatal. The fisherman was quickly lost and searches could not find him.
While the job is inherently risky, as the above example illustrates, many of the accidents that occur on Alaska’s fishing boats are preventable. Fishermen need to be given time to rest because fatigue causes accidents. They need to be well trained in using the equipment, in communicating with each other, and in safety procedures. They also need to be prevented from going out in to waters that are simply too dangerous.
The Tourism Industry
Another important shipping industry in Alaska is related to tourism. The state is a popular stop for cruise lines with visitors hoping to spot whales and other wildlife, not to mention the beautiful scenery on the land in the state. Cruise ship workers in Alaska may not have jobs that are as dangerous as those of fishermen and crabbers, but they do take risks. Any maritime job is inherently hazardous and can lead to falls overboard, trips and falls, being hit by cargo, or in the case of cruise workers, being harassed or assaulted by passengers and falling victim to fast-moving onboard viruses. Employers have a responsibility to maintain the safest environment possible, and when they don’t, these types of incidents can cause injuries and illnesses.
Harbor and Dock Workers
Alaska also has plenty of maritime workers who do not go out to sea on ships. These are the dock and harbor workers who load and unload cargo ships, make repairs on and maintain ships, move supplies from warehouses to the docks, drive trucks, operate cranes and forklifts, and do other types of work related to the industry.
Accidents in harbor areas are not uncommon. These are crowded busy places with many people operating big machinery at the same time. Small mistakes can easily turn into big accidents like dropping cargo from a crane, slipping and falling from a walkway into the water, or even being hit by a truck. These accidents cause injuries and even deaths.
The Alaska Fishermen’s Fund
Because fishing and crabbing are such important industries to the state, a special fund was created to help workers and their dependents get financial assistance in the event of costly accidents on the job. Alaska is the only state with this kind of special fund, and it provides up to $10,000 per worker depending on the situation. The money is designed to cover expenses like medical bills and lost wages, either for the injured worker or a deceased fisherman’s family.
The Alaska Fishermen’s Fund provides this money when insurance money and other types of public assistance have been exhausted. Furthermore, recipients must meet qualifications. To get the money, you must have a valid state commercial fishing license and have been injured while doing work related to the fishing industry. The accident that led to an injury must also have occurred in Alaska or in the state’s waters.
Other Maritime Laws
While the state offers this special fund for commercial fishermen, it is far from the only option that Alaskan maritime workers have when injured on the job. If you work in any aspect of the industry in the state you may be covered by any number of federal laws. The Jones Act, for instance, covers accidents caused by negligence but only if you qualify as a seaman, someone who spends a significant amount of working time on a working vessel in navigation.
Harbor workers can get money after an accident through the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. This law provides compensation regardless of whether negligence played a role in the incident. In the unfortunate event that you die on the job, the Death on the High Seas Act may provide your surviving dependents with much-needed benefits to cover funeral and other expenses.
If you live in Alaska, work in the maritime industry, and have been injured on the job, you have many options to get money that will help you get back on your feet. With the guidance of an experienced lawyer, you can be sure that you take the right steps, with the right timeline, and under the right laws, to get the compensation you are owed.