North Carolina’s long Atlantic shoreline is largely made up of shifting sand dunes and islands that come and go with the tides, not conducive to ports. However, there are two major cargo ports in the state, one at Wilmington and the other at Morehead City. Both are run by the North Carolina State Ports Authority and both play important roles in the maritime industry, handling a variety of cargo that comes in and out each year.
The maritime history of North Carolina is long and rich with the first settlers from Europe arriving here by boat more than 400 years ago. The long coast has seen its share of shipping, international trade, and even piracy. Today, the state has two important ports that make up a significant share of the cargo that comes in along the Atlantic coast of the U.S. If you work here or on ships that come into the ports, you should know that a North Carolina maritime lawyer could be your best ally if you are injured on the job. In the terrible event that you die on the job, your loved ones can also rely on a maritime lawyer to help them fight for compensation.
The Ports of North Carolina
North Carolina’s long coastline has just three ports: the Port of Wilmington and the Port of Morehead City, both cargo ports, and Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point, the largest military terminal in the world. The larger of the two state-run ports is the Port of Wilmington, which is situated on the banks of the Cape Fear River, about 30 miles inland from the mouth of the river. It is a multi-use cargo and container port and a designated Foreign Trade Zone with facilities that can handle containers, bulk cargo, and breakbulk cargo. In 2015 the port handled nearly five million tons of cargo.
The Port of Morehead City sits at one of the deepest of all East Coast harbors on the Intracoastal Waterway and Bogue Sound. In addition to cargo shipping, the port has facilities for commercial and recreational fishing boats. The port handles bulk and breakbulk cargo and is the second largest port in the country in terms of the amount of rubber imported. Morehead City also leads other ports in exporting phosphate.
The Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point is run by the U.S. Military and is responsible for handling military materials, many dangerous. These include ammunition, weapons, explosives, and other military equipment. The port also serves as a transfer point, moving cargo between ships, trucks, and rail to distribute it to other places around the country. This is the main military port serving the East coast.
Maritime Accidents in North Carolina
The maritime workplace is a dangerous one. Workers in ports and on ships and boats face a lot of daily hazards. In ports the biggest dangers involve the cargo and moving it around the port area. Most cargo is large and can cause a lot of damage if something goes wrong. Cargo, cranes, and port vehicles have been known to be involved in accidents triggered by worker miscommunications, poor equipment maintenance, or errors in judgement. Offshore, ships cause accidents too, from sinking and capsizing to onboard fires, collisions, and equipment accidents.
One such accident occurred in 2013 when a passenger ferry ran aground at Battery Island. The coast of North Carolina is dotted with islands, so ferries are important for people to get around. In this incident more than 12 people were hurt after running aground abruptly causing passengers and crew members to be thrown dangerously around the ferry. The fault was found to lie with the captain of the ferry who simply wasn’t paying attention when the boat struck a sandbar.
Another accident that occurred in the water happened in 2012 when the tall ship Bounty sank. There were sixteen people on board at the time and three were seriously injured. One crew member died and the captain was never found, and was presumed to have died. The fault was with the captain who made a reckless decision to sail the ship out of its port in spite of the fact that they would be going into the path of Hurricane Sandy.
Port accidents are all too common as well and can be just as tragic as those that happen on ships out at sea. At the Port of Wilmington in 2013 a coil of wire fell and struck a worker, who was knocked into a cargo hold of a ship and fell 70 feet. The worker, 23 years old, had been working on unloading a ship when the 2,000-pound coil fell. The man was flown to the nearest hospital for treatment, but how the accident happened was not known and he was fortunate to not have been killed on the scene. Another accident occurred at the port in 2016 when a worker became pinned between a lift basket and a light fixture as he was replacing light bulbs. Luckily a ground-based spotter saw what happened and overrode the lift and brought the worker down with only injuries sustained.
In 2001, the Port of Morehead City had to be shut down entirely when several gallons of an explosive chemical spilled. Fortunately the spill was not larger and the cleanup took just one day. The port reopened the next day. The spill occurred when a forklift driver struck and punctured the containers holding the highly explosive chemical. Authorities had to assure the press and public that it was not a terrorist incident, and that it was simply an accident on the part of the forklift driver. Fortunately no explosion occurred and no one was hurt in the incident.
Rights and Resources for North Carolina’s Maritime Workers
If you work in the North Carolina maritime industry, you have an exciting job, but you also face many daily dangers. If you are a seaman you face the risk of being on a sinking ship, of falling overboard, of being hurt in a collision, or of suffering injuries from onboard equipment or fires. You could even die on the job. As a seaman you are covered by the Jones Act, which can help you fight for compensation if your employer was negligent in the accident, but is refusing to pay. A North Carolina maritime lawyer can help you use the Jones Act correctly to get the money you deserve. A lawyer can also help your loved ones if you are killed in a workplace accident.
Working in a port means you are more likely to qualify for post-accident compensation through the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. If you do work in the port and are hurt on the job, regardless of negligence, this law can provide you with the money you need to pay for medical bills and to compensate you for lost wages until you can go back to work. If you die on the job your dependent loved ones are also entitled to this compensation.
Regardless of what position you hold in the maritime industry, if you are hurt on the job, you have rights and resources to help you get the money you need. A North Carolina maritime lawyer is your best ally in these situations. This experienced professional can guide you through the steps you need to make, ensure you have no errors, and represent you as you fight for your rights.