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Claiming Compensation for Personal Injury Caused whilst Working at Sea
Many of the types of accidents in which crewmen and other ship members can be injured, happen in similar fashion to, for example, accidents in a factory or on a construction site on dry land, such as slip and trip accidents, lifting heavy object accidents and falling from a height.
Added 07th December, 2018
Have you ever stood on the shore watching as cargo ships leave port or sail across the horizon and wondered what it must be like to work on one of those vessels? Exciting, dangerous, perhaps even glamorous if distant lands are the destination?
For those who actually take the step of pursuing a career at sea, the reasons for doing so are usually more a matter of reality. Just as for those who worked down their nearby coal mines, or in the factories of the industrial heartlands where they were born, working at sea is, for those born near the shores (and further afield too), a means of earning a living. Thoughts of a leading a glamorous or exotic life, are not factors which they take into account.
Working at sea onboard merchant ships or on fishing vessels, is a dangerous occupation. Approximately 2000 accidents each year causing death or serious injury are reported to the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB). Accidents at sea, where workers are killed or seriously injured are not often headline news and they can (other than those that are catastrophic accidents) tend to go under the radar, as far as publicity is concerned.
The Most Common Types of Accidents Causing Injury to Workers that Happen whilst Working at Sea
- Slips, trips and falls
- Exposure to chemicals and gases
- Lifting heavy objects
- Crane and lifting gear accidents
- Enclosed space accidents
- Accidents as a result of collisions
- Falling objects – often caused particularly in adverse weather conditions
- Electric shocks
- Machinery explosions
- Mooring operations
- Man overboard
Examples of the type of accidents that occur on vessels at sea
A fairly recent incident reported on the MAIB website is that which involved the North Star fishing vessel on the 5th February 2018 off the coast of Cape Wrath, North Scotland. The crew had been shooting creels (fishing baskets), 16 nautical miles off the coast, when a crew member was thrown overboard after his leg became entangled in the fishing gear.
Although the crew member was recovered from the sea by his colleagues some ten minutes after entering the water, he was unconscious and despite efforts to revive him, he failed to recover consciousness.
An investigation by the MAIB into the accident found that;
- The vessels official risk controls did not reflect the operational practices onboard
- The crew underestimated the risk of a crewman becoming entangled in the back rope and being dragged overboard
- ‘Shooting’ instructions on the vessel did not follow the industry best practice to separate the crew from the back rope and have knives at hand should any mishap occur
- The owners of the vessel were new to fishing vessel ownership and had not taken a proactive approach to risk compliance
In 2017, the Ipswich Star carried a report of a crewman being killed and another seriously injured as a result of an explosion in the engine room of a containership as it was approaching the dock at Felixstowe.
On 6 June 1999 a barge hand was crushed between a tug and a dump barge, at Nab Tower Dumping Grounds, near the Isle of Wight. At the time of the accident there was a force 3 wind and a metre swell causing both vessels to roll. As the barge hand was attempting to transfer from the tug he was crushed. He died from his injuries on the way to hospital.
An accident investigation decided that;
- The boarding method adopted by the master of the tug did not properly take into consideration the high levels of risk that the bargeman was exposed to
- The tug master did not consider fully the risks inherent in a ship-to-ship transfer, and failed to ensure that the bargeman was not placed at unnecessary risk when undertaking the transfer.
- The bargeman’s employer, failed to ensure that the tug master properly evaluated the risks involved in the transfer operation, and that their employee was not placed at unnecessary risk.
Making A Claim for Compensation Personal Injury or Death as a Result of a Work Accident at Sea
Whilst we have used three tragic examples of just some of the types of accidents that take place at sea, thankfully not all involve fatalities. Many of the types of accidents in which crewmen and other ship members can be injured, happen in similar fashion to, for example, accidents in a factory or on a construction site on dry land, such as slip and trip accidents, lifting heavy object accidents and falling from a height.
If you suffer an accident whilst on board ship, as a member of a crew, you may be able to bring a claim against the owner or operator of the ship in the same way you would, had the accident happened to you at work, on land.
How you do that though, is a totally different ‘kettle of fish’! Equally, the type of personal injury lawyer that you should choose to bring a work accident at sea injury claim for you, needs to be different. Making a work accident at sea injury claim requires a specialist solicitor to act for you. At Bridge McFarland solicitors, partner Kathryn Hudson has developed expertise in bringing claims for injured seafarers over many years.
Why should I use a specialist work at sea compensation solicitor?
The answer is, that a general personal injury solicitor is not likely to have the required expertise to deal with work place claims for injury which happen onboard a ship. Work accidents at sea are potentially fraught with difficulties for the solicitor that takes your case on. For example, if you were to have an accident at work in a factory in Grimsby that is the fault of your employer, it would usually be very easy to identify against whom the claim should be made. If you work for a company called ABC Ltd with a registered office in Grimsby, then your claim is very likely to be made against ABC Ltd. If they dispute liability for your accident or the negotiations to try and settle your claim for compensation with them drag on, then your solicitors will start court proceedings against ABC Limited and they will ‘serve’ the court papers on ABC Limited by asking the court to formally send the court papers to their registered office in Grimsby.
In the case of work accidents at sea, the procedure is not that simple. If you are injured whilst working on a ship off the cost of Grimsby and you think it was not your fault then first of all your solicitor would need to identify the correct party against whom the claim should be made. Your contract of employment should identify who your employer is and where their domicile is i.e. their headquarters for legal purposes. The contract will hopefully also outline where any legal claims are to be decided upon, that is, in which country. This is known as a ‘jurisdiction’ clause.
If the contract does not contain details of ‘jurisdiction’ then your solicitor might advise that your claim should not only be made against your employer, but also as a precaution against the vessel owner, too. These are not necessarily the same people. If then, your employer, for instance was domiciled in England but the owner of the vessel was based in Sweden, then you will be able to serve (formally send) the court proceedings on the vessel owner in Sweden – sometimes by having to get permission from the court.
If neither the owner of the ship nor the employer is domiciled within England or Wales, it may not be possible to bring the claim within the jurisdiction of the English courts, even though the injured person wishing to bring the claim, lives in this country.
An experienced accident at sea claims solicitor, such as Kathryn Hudson at Bridge McFarland Solicitors, may have contacts in various other jurisdictions (including Scotland, which has a different legal system to England and Wales). In fact, Kathryn has built up an extensive network of overseas accident at sea lawyers who are able to help in such cases. Kathryn would be more than happy to help the injured person find a lawyer within the relevant jurisdiction and who would be able to take up the claim on their behalf.
There are a whole number of other potentially relevant considerations that an expert work accident at sea compensation solicitor will have to take into account, such as whether the accident occurred on a ship that was within a country’s territorial waters (within 12 nautical miles from the low water line of the country’s coast). If it did then it is possible to bring your claim within the jurisdiction of that country.
Other considerations include whether the ship is sailing under a flag of convenience which can bring added complications to making a claim and which only an experienced work accident at sea solicitor would be equipped to deal with. Likewise, the time limit for bringing a claim for a work accident at sea personal injury claim may be either 3 years (as is the case with a personal injury claim happening on land) or it may be a shorter period of two years in certain circumstances.
The circumstances of accidents at sea may, in many cases, be just like many accidents at work whilst working on land – tripping over an item that shouldn’t have been there or falling from a ladder that was faulty. Other accidents that take place on a ship maybe more specific to the nature of the workplace, such as someone being knocked overboard as a result of a work colleagues’ negligent operation of machinery.
However, as this article has pointed out, there are many considerations that a solicitor taking your claim on, has to take into account and act upon, when it comes to bringing a claim for a work accident at sea. We cannot stress how important it is to instruct a solicitor who is an expert in this area of law.
If you have been injured whilst working at sea, call Kathryn Hudson of Bridge McFarland solicitors in Grimsby. Kathryn will quickly make you feel comfortable in the knowledge that you are speaking with an expert in work accident at sea compensation claims. She can be contacted on 01472 311 711 or by email at [email protected]