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Fires on cargo vessels raise concerns about safety regulations

A life at sea is, as legend has it, full of untold riches for the right adventurer. But the reality for modern sailors is often untold dangers, as operating and working on large cargo vessels remains one of the most problematic careers for U.S.-based workers.

One of the problems is the unpredictability of international shipping, where a hodgepodge of different national regulations or rules decided by trade blocs lead to different expectations in how hazardous materials are labeled, handled and reported. Many substances, such as explosives, are transported internationally by sea because land and air travel are too dangerous.

An industry study commissioned after a number of fires on-board cargo vessels also determined that investigations may not lead to conclusions about the origin of accidents. Sometimes, investigations are not undertaken at all. This does injustice to seamen who may be injured or killed in accidents as well as hobbling future efforts to create better safety standards.

Enforcement of existing regulations remains wanting as well. A New York-based independent organization working with the U.S. Coast Guard also reviewed a number of containers crossing international boundaries by sea. More than half of them failed to meet fire safety standards accepted in the marine industry.

People injured in maritime accidents may not be covered by conventional workers' compensation protections, but the Jones Act and the Longshore & Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA) can help victims get the help and funds they need to recover. An attorney can help create and file a claim under one of these laws, as well as consult with victims on how to proceed.

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