Michigan may be a state in the heart of the landlocked Midwest, but it is also the Great Lake state. Surrounded on nearly all sides by Lakes Michigan, Superior, Huron, and Erie, Michigan has long been a major player in the maritime industry. For shipping and cargo, vessels can come in from the Atlantic Ocean through the St. Lawrence Seaway and stop at a number of ports in the state, or carry on and stop in Chicago and send cargo down the Mississippi River. The state also shares many miles of maritime border with Canada.
Michigan has multiple small ports, but one large port in Detroit. The Port of Detroit is the state’s largest port, with a U.S. Customs office, shipping terminals, and space for passenger ferries and cruise ships. Like any port, this one is a hazardous workplace. The waters of the Great Lakes are also dangerous, sometimes as full of hazards and risks as the open ocean. If you work in the maritime industry, you take risks every day. If you get injured on the job you could be facing an uphill battle to get the payment you are owed for your injuries or illness. Let a Michigan maritime lawyer help you get that compensation by using the law to fight for it.
Michigan’s Maritime Industry
With so much coast line, Michigan is a big player in maritime industries. The coasts of the state are dotted with multiple small ports like those at Monroe, Port Huron, Bay City, and Muskegon in the Lower Peninsula and at Escanaba, Houghton, and Sault Ste. Marie in the Upper Peninsula. Most are smaller ports, but the Port of Detroit in the state’s largest city is the biggest port in Michigan. Situated on the Detroit River across from Windsor, Ontario, the Port of Detroit has several terminals. These can handle a variety of cargo from liquid to dry to breakbulk and general cargo. The terminals are also set up for passenger vessels like river cruise boats, river ferries, and larger, regional, Great Lakes cruise ships.
The terminals for the Port of Detroit stretch along several miles and can be found in Detroit as well as other cities like River Rouge and Ecorse. There are both public and privately-owned terminals. Every year, millions of tons of cargo go through the port, including both domestic and international cargo. In terms of steel cargo handled, this is the third largest port in the country. Other important types of cargo in Detroit include coal, cement, iron ore, and road building commodities.
The second largest port in Michigan is the Port of Muskegon on the west side of the state. Located in Muskegon Lake, the state’s largest natural deep water harbor, this port has long been a minor port, but that is changing. The port has built terminals suitable for container shipping, and traffic into the harbor is expected to keep increasing. From Muskegon, ships can quickly get to Milwaukee and Chicago for further distributing cargo.
Maritime Accidents in Michigan
Michigan has a long maritime history, and the bottoms of the Great Lakes are littered with the tragic accidents that have occurred over the years. The Great Lakes are big enough to be as dangerous as any ocean in the right conditions, and many ships have sunk in these waters over the last few hundred years.
The most tragic and infamous of these accidents occurred in 1975 when the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior. All 29 workers on board the ship drowned and it was the single worst accident in the maritime history of Lake Superior. The ship encountered bad weather and rough water, rough enough to sink it quickly. There wasn’t even time to send a distress call. A contributing factor may have been too much cargo on the ship that made it unstable. A faulty cargo latch may also have caused the cargo to shift dangerously. The ship was eventually found 530 feet below the surface of the lake, broken into two pieces.
Some accidents are far less tragic, but still unfortunate, especially when so easily preventable. In 2013, a collision occurred on the Rouge River, near the Port of Detroit when a bulk carrier struck the Jefferson Avenue Bridge. Collisions are not uncommon in the maritime industry, and there are many reasons why they happen. In this case, the blame was placed solely on the bridge operator, who was intoxicated. He failed to lower the drawbridge correctly and it struck the carrier. Thankfully no one was injured in the incident, but the ship was damaged. The bridge, a historic structure, was seriously damaged and remained closed for a long time for repairs.
The terminals of ports are busy places and workers here are susceptible to any number of accidents. In 2013 at a terminal in the Port of Detroit, one worker died as the result of one of these accidents. The worker, 62 years old, was spotting for a forklift driver. The driver lost sight of the victim and ran him over with the forklift. This is an illustration of just how important communication is in these busy terminals. Without it such tragic accidents become more common.
Legal Rights and Resources
If you are facing injuries or illness suffered in a workplace accident, you have certain rights. An injury at work can leave you off the job and without a paycheck for weeks or even months. You may have injuries severe enough that you can never go back to your maritime job. To provide you with the compensation you need cover your lost income, your future lost earnings, and to pay for medical bills associated with your recover, certain laws are in place. Through these maritime laws you can make sure your employer pays what is owed to you.
Facing a big employer in a battle for compensation isn’t always straightforward or easy. The laws are there to protect you, but they can be confusing. Your employer’s insurer may try to get you to sign away your rights or to accept less than you deserve. To help you get it all straight, hire a good Michigan maritime lawyer. This person can be your guide and represent you against your employer. With a professional at your side, you can be sure you get what you deserve.