Although situated in the heartland of the country, Chicago holds a strategic position in the maritime industry and is a major point of entry and distribution center for international shipping. The port area of Chicago is so strategic because it sits at a point between the waters of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes and the entire Mississippi River watershed. Cargo can come in from the Atlantic Ocean and be distributed throughout the country and down to the Gulf of Mexico with Chicago as a point of entry.
The Port of Chicago is an important, large, and busy port complex with multiple terminals and room for container and cargo shipping as well as small cruise ships, and Mississippi River barges. Working in the Chicago maritime industry presents a lot of daily dangers. If you work here or on any of the ships that come and go, you may have been involved in an accident that caused you to be injured or to become sick. To make sure get the compensation you are entitled to and that you deserve, let a Chicago maritime lawyer help you every step of the way.
The Port of Chicago
The state of Illinois has several small ports on rivers throughout the state, but the main complex of ports, centered at the Port of Chicago, is run by the Illinois International Port District. In addition to the Port of Chicago, this district includes Calumet Harbor, maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. International shipping is a major industry in Chicago and the port has room for a lot of large ships as well as storage for the cargo they carry.
The port is also a Foreign Trade Zone and a point of entry for U.S. Customs, as some ships come all the way through the St. Lawrence Seaway and through the Great Lakes to Chicago without stopping at any other ports. From Chicago, the cargo brought in is distributed out to other areas by rail and by truck, but also by river barge. A lot of traffic goes down Mississippi River from Chicago. Small cruise ships also dock in Chicago’s ports and take tourists on regional and Great Lakes tours.
The Dangers of Maritime Work
For workers in the Port of Chicago, there are daily hazards to face. Any busy port is a dangerous workplace with moving vehicles, cargo swinging from cranes, workers trying to coordinate with each other, and water on all sides. Accidents common to ports include accidents with cargo and container cranes. When these big machines fail or if an operator makes a mistake, it can drop cargo, swing cargo toward workers, or even fall over or collapse.
Vehicles also pose dangers in crowded ports. Workers have to move cargo all around the port area on trucks, forklifts, and even moving cranes. Good communication and training are needed to ensure this is all done smoothly. One error in judgment or miscommunication can lead to a crash, hitting a worker, or even pushing someone into the water.
Chicago sends a lot of cargo down the Mississippi River on barges, and this work can also be dangerous. People working on and around the barges have been injured by falling into the water, being crushed by cargo or containers, being exposed to toxic cargo, or by being struck by or tangled in the lines that moor barges and tie down cargo.
Chicago Maritime Accidents
The most terrible of all maritime accidents to strike the Chicago area occurred in 1944. A vessel carrying munitions was docked in the Port of Chicago when it exploded. The explosion was large and unexpected so people did not have time to evacuate. More than 4,000 tons of munitions were on board the ship when the accident happened. The deaths totaled 320, both civilians and sailors, while another 400 people were injured. Workers had complained about unsafe conditions and sailors led a mutiny after the incident, refusing to work until conditions had been improved.
Thankfully, no other port accidents have rivaled that awful incident. Barge accidents are much more common in the Chicago maritime industry, including one that occurred on the Illinois River in 2013. A tow vessel was in the process of moving 14 barges down the river and into a canal. As the pilot made the turn a current came up and broke apart the train of barges. Several vessels struck a nearby dam and sank. The barges were lost and the dam was badly damaged, although luckily no workers were hurt. The damages totaled more than $53 million.
In another incident the same year, an accident blocked up the Mississippi River traffic for more than a day and caused a major oil spill into the river. The accident involved four barges in a river pile up. One barge, being pushed by a tug, struck another barge and started the collision. The incident demonstrates how crowded the waterways are in this maritime area and how difficult it can be to navigate without accidents that often leave people injured.
Maritime Rights and Resources
As a maritime worker in Chicago you have a right to compensation if you are injured on the job and you have resources for getting that compensation. Your best resource is an experienced and knowledgeable Chicago maritime lawyer. This professional can guide you through all the steps you need to take after a workplace accident and ensure you make no mistakes and get everything you are owed. The laws that protect workers like you are not always easy to understand, which is why you need the expertise of someone who has been through the process before.
Whether you are a longshoreman working in the port or a seaman working on a cargo ship or river barge, there are laws to protect you. Illnesses and injuries caused by your work can leave you with big medical expenses and no income if you can’t go back to work. The money you can get through maritime laws is crucial to helping you get back on your feet. Let a Chicago maritime lawyer help you get that money.