Miami is a major port city, not just for the state of Florida, but for the country and internationally. PortMiami is a place for container ships to come and go, bringing cargo in and shipping it out to the rest of the world. Thanks to its location, Miami is a major hub and point of connection for trade, commerce, cargo, tourism, and travel between the U.S., the Caribbean, Central and South America, and even Europe and Africa. The port is known as both the “Cruise Capital of the World” and the “Cargo Gateway of the Americas.”
As such a busy port, it is no wonder that there are often accidents that seriously affect workers. Accidents aboard ships that come into port in the city as well as accidents that occur in the docks area, the harbor, the warehouses and other areas of the port can lead to injuries that impact workers for years. If you work in the Miami maritime industry, know that you have rights to compensation that will help you get back on your feet, and hopefully back to work.
The Dangers for Seamen
Whether you work as a seaman on ships that dock at PortMiami or you work as a longshoreman in the port itself, you do dangerous work every day simply by being a part of the Florida maritime industry. Maritime jobs are among the most hazardous of all jobs, with commercial fishing leading the way. While the most dangerous fishing jobs tend to be near Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, any commercial fishing vessel poses risks to workers. You could become injured while trying to maintain your deck footing while out on rough waters, in a tropical storm or hurricane, or while working with the complicated machinery involved in fishing.
As a seaman on a container ship, you face other dangers on the job. There are the same worries with regards to weather and rough waters, but also the cargo itself. On a ship that carries cargo you may be at risk for exposure to dangerous chemicals or a fire. You could be injured by shifting or falling cargo. You may also be injured in a fall moving from one level of the ship to another or in an electrical accident.
One terrible example of the dangerous work that seamen do occurred in late 2015. A container ship, the El Faro left Florida full of cargo, only to be lost in a hurricane. When the ship left port the weather report warned of a tropical storm, but by the time they had gone it was upgraded to a hurricane. For days no one knew what happened to the ship, only that communication had been lost. Eventually, cargo was found floating in the water and reports stated that the ship had sunk in the hurricane and that all 33 crew members were lost.
While jobs aboard ships are hazardous and risky for workers, so too are the jobs people do in the port. Working as a longshoreman may mean that you are responsible for operating large cranes, moving cargo by hand, driving a truck, repairing or maintaining ships, or working in warehouses moving cargo, cleaning, doing maintenance or working on electrical systems. Port workers can be victims of accidents involving falling cargo, faulty machinery, crane operator errors or falls onto ship decks or into the water.
There are many examples of the kinds of accidents that longshoreman have experienced at the port in Miami. For example, in 2011 a longshoreman died in Miami when part of a refrigerated container assembly fell on him and crushed him. The worker made an error in removing the chains that secured the container. He was crouching under it when it fell.
Also in 2011, a longshoreman died after being crushed between a vehicle and the ramp of a ship in port. He was doing work on the ship and had just removed binders securing a container to the ship. As a vehicle went by him on the ramp it caused the container to shift and pin him between the vehicle and a bulkhead. Both of these incidents illustrate how dangerous the job of a longshoreman can be. Even for experienced workers mistakes are too easy to make.
The Special Risks to Cruise Workers
As the “Cruise Capital of the World” Miami’s port sees millions of passengers come through every year. In fact, the port has more cruise passengers than any other port in the world. There are 42 berths in the port designated just for cruise ships. It is a big industry that comes with big risks. Passengers can be victims of accidents, but workers are especially vulnerable as it is their job to try to ensure the safety of the passengers when something goes wrong.
Fires are a particularly big risk on cruise ships. Fire on any kind of ship can be dangerous because people on board are in a confined space with few options as to where to go to escape the fire. A fire on a ship can lead to burns, smoke inhalation injuries, falls overboard, and fatalities. There are many examples of fires that have occurred aboard cruise ships.
In 1984 an incident occurred in which a ship called the Scandinavian Sun, which had embarked from Miami, caught fire during the night. Workers did not respond quickly enough to close vents and many people aboard suffered injury from smoke inhalation. One crew member and one passenger died. In another example of a cruise ship fire and disaster, 14 crew members and eight passengers died aboard Ecstasy after an engineering room fire. The fire spread to several decks of the ship shortly after it left the port in Miami.
There are other special risks for workers on cruise ships, including illness. With so many people aboard a ship, illnesses can spread quickly. Many times the illness is food-borne. One misstep in the kitchen can infect thousands of people on the ship with norovirus or other stomach illnesses. Assault is another particular risk for cruise workers. Irate passengers, inebriated passengers, and the workers themselves can start fights or be victims of assaults. It happens more often than cruise companies would like to admit.
Legal Resources for Miami Maritime Workers
If you work in the city, in the port, or on ships in the area as a maritime worker, you have all these risks and more to consider every day that you go to work. Any day on the job could be the day that you are the victim of an accident that leaves you sick, injured, or even killed. In the event that you become sick or injured, federal maritime laws are in place to ensure you can get compensation. If you are killed, your dependents are entitled to those same benefits.
To help you get the money you deserve you need the best legal resources. A Miami maritime attorney can help you file the right claim and can represent you in the event that your employer denies or fights your claim. While you are entitled to compensation in most situations, figuring out how to get it can be complicated. With the guidance of an experienced lawyer, though, you can make sure you get access to everything you are owed.