Maritime incidents have declined in America’s waterways according to a recent US Coast Guard study. The report focuses specifically on towing accidents and oil spills–types of maritime accidents that result in significant human and environmental damage. The reduction in accidents is good news, but the inherent dangers of the maritime profession mean that injuries and spills will never be eliminated completely.
The report was compiled by the Coast Guard Office of Investigations and Casualty Analysis, which publishes the reports annually on its website. Although available to anyone, the information is primarily used by the by the Coast Guard-American Waterways Operators (AWO) Safety Partnership’s National Quality Steering Committee to develop safety recommendations for the industry.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a maritime accident in the Houston area, it is important to know your rights and what to expect. Call an experienced Houston maritime injury attorney with The Krist Law Firm, P.C. as soon as possible. To schedule a free, no-risk consultation, call (281) 283-8500 or contact us online.
Towing Accidents Are Fewer and Less Serious Than Ever
934 towing accidents occurred in 2017–down from 1,231 in 2016. This means that in one year, there was a 24 percent decrease in incidents involving towing vessels. The safety gains are even more significant when compared to earlier years. Since 2014, the decrease in accidents is close to 50 percent. Taken together the data shows that the towing fleet has had its safest year to date.
The vast majority of the 900 or so reported accidents were not serious. The Coast Guard report distinguishes the severity of reported accidents based on the resulting injuries, material damages, environmental contamination, and other damages caused by a given accident. In 2017, 82 percent of towing vessel accidents were considered as low severity, with only 10 percent meeting the threshold of high severity.
13 crew members died aboard towing vessels in 2017, but only six died as a result of causes related to the actual operations of the ship. Medical conditions and accidental overdoses accounted for most of the fatalities. The operation-related deaths were the result of explosions, fires, sinkings, and accidental drownings. Although shipping operators and crews can and do take precautions against these risks, the necessary proximity of crews to flammable materials, noxious chemicals, heavy equipment, and water means that fatal accidents cannot be entirely avoided.
Similarly, the inherent risks of the maritime industry mean that injuries will always occur as long as human crews are on vessels. There were 89 injuries aboard towing vessels in 2017, down from 100 in 2016. The most severe injuries were caused by falls, improper line handling, crushing, and being hit by moving objects during towing.
Oil Spills Are a Persistent Problem in the Maritime Industry
The biggest oil spill in the United States occurred right here in the Houston shipping channel last year. A barge operated by the Bouchard Transportation Company exploded and leaked over 80,000 gallons of crude into the channel. This one incident accounted for 95 percent of the crude oil spilled last year in American waterways. Both the number of oil spills and the volume of spilled oil increased between 2016 and 2017.
Oil spills aren’t just an environmental problem that affects marine ecosystems and coastal habitats. They have dangerous and immediate effects on maritime workers. As in this year’s incident in Houston, spills often occur in conjunction with explosions and fires that pose obvious risks to crewmembers and first responders. But even in slow spills, the exposure to oil and chemicals can result in debilitating injuries to an exposed crew.
If You’re Injured, Call a Houston Maritime Attorney
At the Krist Law Firm, P.C., we know that the maritime profession is both rewarding and potentially risky. Our mission is to ensure that maritime workers recover what they deserve after an accident by fiercely advocating on their behalf and seeking every remedy available under the law. Too many injured seamen accept an initial settlement offer before consulting with a maritime lawyer and learning the full extent of their legal rights. Don’t make the same mistake. If you’ve been injured on the water, call us today at (281) 283-8500 for a free consultation.