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New York Maritime Law Blog

Dive boat operator cites 1851 law in California deaths

Investigators continue to look for the cause of a fire that destroyed a California dive boat on Sept. 2 killing 34 people on board. Five crew members survived when the Concepcion burned and sank off the coast, north of Santa Cruz Island.

Upon arriving at the scene, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) expressed several safety concerns, including whether the vessel had proper fire prevention and suppression equipment on board, such as smoke alarms and fire extinguishers. The NTSB is also looking closely into the boat’s escape hatches.

34 passengers killed in tragic boating fire: What went wrong?

A tragic fire broke out on a scuba diving boat, killing 34 people. The passengers were asleep in a bunk room when the fire began. They were unable to escape. Flames and smoke blocked both exits making it impossible for the passengers to get out.

crew members attempted to rescue the passengers to no avail. Neither the crew members or passengers were able to enter the flame-filled hallway. The crew also attempted to break windows but were unable to rescue any passengers.

Who is liable for ferry accidents?

Maritime law may seem like such an irrelevant topic to you if you do not work on a vessel and spend little time boating or traveling by cruise ship. Yet as a resident of Manhattan, you may very well encounter situations where maritime law comes into play without you even knowing it. There is a good chance that you have taken a ferry ride out of one of the city’s many ports (indeed, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, roughly 70 million people travelled by ferry in 2015 in just the states of New York and Washington combined). Who is liable, then, if you are injured on a ferry? 

The answer to that question depends on who owns and operates the ferry where your injury occurred. If it was a private company, then you would likely bring a liability claim against them in much the same way you would against a private party. In your claim, you will typically need to show that your injury was due to negligence or recklessness on the part of either the ferry’s crew or owners (in most cases, third parties cannot be held liable if you are to blame for your own accident). 

What is paralysis?

Paralysis is the result of an abnormality that occurs somewhere along the neurological path that sends signals from your brain to your muscles and vice versa. Because of the disruption of the neurological signals, you experience either a partial or complete loss of control over your muscles. According to the Cleveland Clinic, paralysis affects approximately 6 million people in the United States, including New York. 

Paralysis can result from medical conditions. Some of these, such as cerebral palsy or spina bifida, may be present from birth, while others may develop over time, such as multiple sclerosis. However, traumatic injury can also cause paralysis. Among the most common causes are injuries to the head that result in brain damage. 

Defining a “vessel in navigation”

The maritime industry can present several unique risks and dangers to those in Manhattan who are employed in it. Thus, such workers rely on the Jones Act to afford them the protections needed to feel confident enough to work at sea. Indeed, according to the Cornell Law School, the Jones Act not only allows a maritime worker to collect maintenance and cure benefits to help cover the costs of any injury they sustain while in the service of their vessels, but also to bring legal action against the owners of said vessels if needed. The extent of such protection, however, depends on the type of vessel one works on. 

Per the International Risk Management Institute, the Jones Act covers only “vessels in navigation.” Exactly how does the act define a vessel in navigation? It must meet the following four criteria: 

  • It must be afloat
  • It must be in operation
  • It must be capable of moving
  • It must be operating in navigable waters

Boating accident leaves one dead, another facing charges

Most boating accidents that occur on New York City's waterways are just that: accidents. There rarely may be any degree of intent to harm on the part of the people responsible for such accidents. Yet what is often present is an element of negligence. Boating itself is viewed by many as being a leisure activity, yet what is lost in this perception is the fact that it must be done responsibly. Drinking often accompanies a boating excursion, which places the responsibility on boat owners to avoid doing anything that would compromise their abilities to operate their vessels (such as drink to excess). A failure to meet this responsibility can often produce devastating consequences. 

This fact was on full display in the case of a Virginia man who is currently facing criminal charges stemming from a boating accident that he and a friend were involved in. After the friend's body was found floating in a local river, it was determined that the two had gone out on the boat owned by the man's father after a night of excessive drinking. The boat then crashed into a bulkhead and threw the friend overboard. It is alleged that in the man's intoxicated state, he did not fully grasp what had happened, and instead of searching for his friend, drove the boat home and went to bed. 

What is MRSA?

Among the myriad of risks facing maritime workers, they must also be concerned about contracting methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). These infections can cause serious harm and are often resistant to many of the medications used to treat bacterial infections. MRSA infections can be deadly in some cases, so workers must remain informed about symptoms, how infections are contracted, and how to receive proper treatment. 

Staph bacteria are found everywhere, including on people's bodies. In some cases, this bacteria might actually enter a person's body, which in turn leads to MRSA. For many years, MRSA was often contracted within the hospital setting. However, these numbers of have been on the decline for a number of years. Unfortunately, people who obtain MRSA within the community, including in work settings, has been on the rise at the same time. 

Can the Jones Act be waived?

The posts in this blog that reference the Jones Act refer to it in terms of the protections that it provides you as a maritime worker in the event of an injury you sustain while in the service of your vessel. This could make it easy to forget that the Jones Act was part of the larger Merchant Marine Act, whose primary purpose was to build up a merchant fleet sufficient enough to sustain the U.S. and its allies. The complexity of the Act may make it easy to overlook the fact that included within it is the option to waive it. 

Why would anyone consider waiving the regulations imposed under the Jones Act? Accordiong to the U.S. Naval Institute, one of the primary tenets of it is that transportation between American ports be made by ships built in the U.S., and owned and manned by Americans. The benefits once provided primarily by merchant vessels have since been supplemented by other means, and this has led to a diminishing of the U.S. merchant ship fleet. This has led to many merchant ships being foreign-built (or built using foreign materials). Thus, if those ships are to deliver to U.S. ports, then they need to be granted a Jones Act waiver. 

International waters signal freedom and controversy

Millions of people from all walks of life take part in cruises each year. While some take part in the serenity and peace that the open waters provide, others take advantage of the mostly good-natured but sometimes illegal debauchery and freedom that international waters provide.

Due to each country having its own version of it and cruise ships going in out of many countries ports, the associated Maritime or Admiralty Law is difficult to understand.

What should I know about life jackets?

Even seasoned boaters are encouraged to wear life jackets on the water. Along with ensuring that these life-saving boating accessories are accessible at all times, there are some other important factors you should keep in mind if you want you and your passengers to remain safe. In this case, the U.S. Coast Guard offers the following advice. 

Children should always wear life jackets aboard boats, no matter their swimming ability. In fact, most states have strict regulations in place regarding the wearing of life jackets by children. Most importantly, kids must wear an appropriately-sized jacket based on their weight. An adult jacket will not be able to save a child in a drowning situation. When buying a jacket for your child, look at the label for weight information. Weight restrictions are typically labeled by less than 30 lbs., 30 lbs. to 50 lbs., less than 50 lbs., and so on. 

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