Oregon maintains an enviable position on the Pacific Ocean, which allows for access to the rest of the U.S. and Asia. Major ports like the Port of Portland and the Port at Coos Bay are important to the state and the country and provide access for shipping and containers to come and go. The maritime industry in this coastal state is huge, employing thousands of people on ships, as commercial fishermen, as longshoremen and harbor workers, and in a number of other jobs.
If you work in a maritime job in Oregon, you are entitled to a safe workplace even in the midst of a dangerous job. While some accidents on ships, at sea, and in harbor areas are not preventable, others could have been avoided with best practices, the responsibility of employers. If you are facing a debilitating injury because of an accident on the job, there are federal laws in place to ensure you get adequate compensation. There are also professional and experienced lawyers who have studied and worked in maritime law, ready to help you make your case.
Oregon’s Important Ports
Many ships set sail from the coast of Oregon, setting out to fish and crab, to send containers overseas, or to take tourists out for travel and recreation. One of the largest and busiest ports in the country is the Port of Portland. There are several terminals here, well in from the coast along the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. Millions of tons of cargo move through the port every year, including a significant portion of international cargo. The port is connected to trains that move cargo out and in to be dispersed or put on ships. To get to the port, ships must navigate the treacherous Columbia River bar, where the rough waters of the river meet the ocean’s currents.
Another important port area in Oregon is the Port at Coos Bay. This is on the Puget Bay, located on the Pacific coast close to northern California. It is one of the largest, deep water harbors on the Pacific Coast and is important for taking in cargo, especially lumber products. Millions of dollars of imported and exported cargo go through this international port each year. The port employs hundreds of workers to do the job of moving that cargo and maintaining ships, equipment, and machinery.
Maritime Accidents in Oregon
If you work in the maritime industry anywhere in the world, you face a risky job. Working on ships at sea means facing the possibility of falling overboard, of being struck by cargo, of being exposed to toxic chemicals, of being injured by fishing equipment, or of being the victim of a ship fire. In port areas, working as a longshoreman, you may be injured by large cargo and container cranes, struck by cargo trucks, the victim of a fall into the water, or be injured by any other type of trip, slip, and fall accident.
Real examples of the kinds of accidents that maritime workers in Oregon and elsewhere may suffer are all too common. For instance, in 2013 a large crane, weighing more than 600 tons, collapsed at the Port of Portland. Luckily no one was caught underneath the crane at the time that it fell, but the incident illustrates just how hazardous this work environment can be, especially when proper precautions are not taken.
Fishing is a typical maritime industry on the coast of Oregon and commercial fishing is among the most dangerous of all maritime jobs. In 2012 a fishing vessel ran aground on the way into port at Newport. Large waves were blamed for loss of control of the vessel and the accident resulted in the breaking apart of the ship. Luckily for the crew, the Coast Guard came quickly to lift them out of the sinking boat. Another fishing vessel sank in 2014 when it started taking on water, and again, the crew members were luckily rescued by the Coast Guard and no one was lost or injured.
In 2008, a passenger tourist vessel, called the Queen of the West caught fire in its engine room while taking tourists up the Columbia River. The cause was found to be a fault in the engine that caused oil to spray into the exhaust. All passengers and crew members were rescued, but one suffered hypothermia. Many lives were saved and injuries avoided because the ship owners voluntarily installed a fire detection system.
Oregon’s River Bar Pilots
River bar pilots are specially trained workers who navigate ships through dangerous waters. They are locally-based and know their area. Ship captains give up control to let these elite pilots do their job. In Oregon, the Columbia River bar, where the river meets ocean currents, some of the best pilots in the world take ships into the Port of Portland. Columbia River’s bar is one of the most dangerous of all waterways and requires care and skill to navigate without incident.
Even with training and skill, these pilots are at great risk on the job. Falls represent a major source of accidents. Pilots often use ladders to get from a boat onto a ship to be navigated, much of the time in rough waters and dangerous weather. In one incident from 2006, a pilot fell from one of these ladders and drowned in the Pacific Ocean. The pilot was wearing a life vest and had other safety gear, but the waters were so rough that he was carried away and could not be found and rescued.
In another example of a river bar pilot accident, a worker fell into the water as she moved from a ship that she had piloted back to her pilot boat. Luckily the pilot was rescued immediately from the frigid and rough waters of the Pacific Ocean near Astoria, Oregon. She was wearing all of the appropriate safety equipment and was lucky that, even in the darkness, her coworkers were able to pull her back up to the boat.
Oregon Maritime Lawyers
If you work in the maritime industry in Oregon, whether as a river bar pilot, longshoreman in one of the ports, as a commercial fisherman, or as some other type of seaman, you have a right to get compensation if you suffer injuries during an accident. There are lawyers in the state who specialize in maritime law. They are ready to help people just like you get the compensation you deserve and to help you navigate the complicated system of laws that make up federal maritime law.