The maritime industry for centuries has been, and continues to be an integral part of the history of the United States of America. So, each May 22, National Maritime Day is celebrated nationwide, honoring the country's maritime workers and commemorating the date in 1819 that the American steamship Savannah set sail from Savannah, Georgia on the first ever transoceanic voyage under steam power. By order of Congress, the holiday has been observed since 1933.
Each day, tens of thousands of maritime workers diligently do their jobs aboard ships traveling between the US and countries abroad. Unfortunately, their work comes with risks, many of them potentially deadly. Among the most common maritime injuries we see as a maritime attorney are:
- Slips, trips and falls: Surfaces of vessels can be wet, slippery, cluttered, uneven and moving with the waves.
- Falling overboard: Victims of falls from a vessel or between a ship and a quayside face risks of hypothermia, drowning, crushing or being swept out to sea.
- Impacts from falling or swinging objects: Tools dropped from elevations, lifted tackle that's swinging due to the wind or waves, and cargo that's swinging or that slips from its fastenings are among just a few of the things that pose risks of impact.
- Ventilation issues while working in enclosed spaces: Working in tight spaces like cargo areas, tanks, chain lockers, fuel stores and hull access routes all can pose risks because ventilation may be limited and certain types of cargo held in nearby areas can change the composition of the air inside the space. As a result, atmospheres in those spaces can become flammable, explosive, oxygen-deficient or contaminated with toxic gases, boosting risks of fire, explosion, asphyxiation and poisoning.
- Chemical damage to eyes, skin and lungs: Cleansing agents, scale removers, solvents and other chemical substances commonly used in maritime work can cause chemical burns and other damage to the eyes, skin and lungs, potentially leading to blindness and lasting respiratory problems.
- Electrical and thermal injuries: Thermal burns sustained while working on ships most commonly occur in the engine room, where they're caused by flames, explosions or scalding; and in the galley resulting from accidental contact with hot fluids or objects during cooking. Electrical injuries typically are associated with power generation and use, and can cause tissue necrosis, kidney damage and cardiac dysrhythmias.
- Fishing injuries and poisoning: Cuts to the hands and arms while using fishing gear, handling marine debris and gutting catches, as well as punctures by fish hooks, make the body prone to injuries. Also, multiple sea creatures have defensive spines that can puncture and penetrate the skin. Some even inject venom that can cause toxic reactions.
- Diving injuries: Diving itself carries risks of decompression sickness, arterial gas embolism and hypothermia. But in maritime work, diving for certain purposes like clearing debris from rudders and propellers, and inspecting damage from collisions or grounding pose added risks because of the diver's proximity to the vessel. These include impact from a ship's rapid change in position, pressure changes, severe lacerations from propellers, and being crushed between vessels or between a vessel and a fixed quay or jetty.