With more than 1,000 miles of coast and channels on its Gulf side, it’s no wonder that Texas is a big part of the maritime industry. There are 18 ports in the state, some right on the Gulf of Mexico, others further inland on channels and rivers. Together, all these ports move over 500 million tons of cargo each year and adds nearly $300 billion to the state’s economy. Considering the cargo-related jobs only, Texas ports employ over 100,000 workers in the maritime industry. This doesn’t include all the seamen working on cargo ships or other kinds of vessels, like cruise ships and commercial fishing boats.
If you are a part of this major portion of the state’s industry, you have a job in an exciting and lucrative line of work. The job of a seaman or longshoreman can be exciting, but also grueling, physically demanding, and dangerous. The federal maritime laws that protect workers like you were designed to provide a way to get compensation after being injured or becoming sick on the job. If you find yourself in this position, let a Texas maritime lawyer help you get the money you need.
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Texas is home to 18 different Gulf coast ports, together making up about a quarter of the state’s gross domestic product. The Port of Houston is the biggest and busiest port in the state, and one of the biggest in the country. In fact, the port here takes in and exports more cargo by ton than any other port in the country. In addition to cargo and container terminals, the Port of Houston also has one cruise terminal.
The Port of Galveston is also a major center for cargo and container shipping, but is more known for its cruise terminals. Many cruises leave here to tour the Caribbean with over one million passengers each year. Galveston is also home to several research vessels, which leave from the port to conduct scientific studies.
Further south, close to the border with Texas is the Port of Brownsville. In terms of area, this is the largest public port authority in the country. With its unique international position and natural deep water harbor, Galveston has become an important port for international shipping and trade. Millions of tons of steel products, liquid cargo, breakbulk, and other types of cargo go through the port each year. There is also a significant commercial fishing presence here.
Maritime Accidents in Texas
Accidents in the maritime industry are far too common. Workers on ships and in ports are hurt in accidents on a daily basis, and in the most tragic accidents, workers are even killed. The danger of the work comes from many sources: big, complicated equipment, heavy cargo, toxic cargo, falls from heights, falls into the water, dangerous weather and rough water out at sea, poor safety training and lack of equipment, poor maintenance of equipment and electrical systems, and much more. With such a big maritime industry, Texas has seen its fair share of accidents.
The worst maritime accident that state has ever seen occurred in 1947. Known as the Texas City Explosion, the incident is considered the fifth worst maritime accident in the country. The accident occurred on the French cargo ship, the SS Grandcamp. Workers were loading the ship with ammonium nitrate fertilizer, a highly explosive material if not handled correctly. A small fire broke out on the ship, which in addition to fertilizer was carrying ammunition. Workers were unable to contain the fire; it spread and heated the fertilizer to a temperature high enough to cause it to explode.
Although the ship had been evacuated because of the fire, there was enough fertilizer on the ship to cause an explosion that killed hundreds of people. Port workers, fire and emergency service workers, and bystanders were caught in the tragedy and lost their lives that day. The explosion spread to a nearby chemical plant, which didn’t help matters. It was so powerful that the blast blew out windows across the city and was heard as far away as 250 miles. In addition to those killed, thousands were injured.
Although not as large as the Texas City explosion, the Texas maritime industry saw another such incident back in 1990. A Norwegian tanker, the MV Mega Borg, exploded as workers were transferring petroleum cargo to another ship. The transfer was going on 57 miles out on the water, outside the Port of Galveston. The explosion and subsequent fires led to a huge spill of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the deaths of two workers. Seventeen other workers were injured.
Not all incidents in the maritime industry are as spectacular and as disastrous as these explosions and fires. Many more small accidents occur with greater regularity. Some end with fatalities, while others only cause injuries. For instance, in 2015, a worker at the Port of Houston fell from a walkway into a ship’s cargo hold. He had to be lifted with a crane out of the hold and was sent immediately to the hospital to treat his injuries. In another incident in Houston, a barge struck an electrical tower, causing chaos as the shipping channel had to be closed temporarily. Fortunately, no workers were injured in the incident.
Legal Rights and Resources for Maritime Workers
Maritime workers in Texas, both those qualifying as seamen working on ships and longshoremen working in the many ports, are entitled to compensation after accidents that injure them or make them sick. For seamen, the dangers of working out at sea are great. Commercial fishing is particularly risky, and those setting out from Texas’s coastal ports are at risk every day from injuries caused by equipment or from rough weather and water that can sink and capsize smaller vessels. Cargo and cruise ship workers also face risks on the job, from fires to electrical shocks, falls overboard, and even assaults.
The Jones Act is designed to provide a way for seamen to get compensation after an accident that was, at least in part, caused by negligence. If you have been injured on a ship and you can prove that your employer failed to take the necessary steps to prevent an accident, you can file a Jones Act claim to get money for your injuries, to cover medical bills, lost income, and other expenses.
If you work in the port area as a longshoreman or other type of harbor worker, you can seek compensation after an accident through the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. This law provides money even if no negligence was involved in an accident. As with the Jones Act it provides money to cover medical bills, lost wages, and other costs associated with injuries or illness. With both laws, if you are killed on the job, your dependent loved ones have a right to your benefits.
If you find yourself in a position of having been injured in a Texas maritime job, let an experienced lawyer help you fight for the compensation you deserve. When your employer tries to deny you money, you may have to file a claim, and doing so is complicated and confusing. With a professional by your side to guide you and represent you, you can fight successfully for your compensation.