A distraction is anything that takes our attention away from the task at hand. For those who work under hazardous conditions, such as maritime and offshore workers, distractions can be deadly. It only takes a moment of inattention for a serious maritime accident to occur.
Unfortunately, there are many things that can distract maritime and offshore workers from what’s going on around them. Cell phones and texting are two examples. Talking on a cell phone or texting while operating or navigating a vessel can be just as dangerous as talking or texting while driving an automobile. Cell phone use related maritime accidents can be just as dangerous and devastating as those that take place on the road.
Benefits of Cell Phones for Maritime and Offshore Workers
Cell phones have impacted everyone’s lives, including those who work in the maritime industry. They offer many benefits, especially for maritime and offshore workers who can spend weeks and months away from home. Cell phones provide workers with the means to stay in touch with loved ones even while at sea, helping to reduce depression, loneliness, and other mental stress. They also give workers access to music, movies, TV shows, and social media, providing welcome relief from the monotony of living aboard a vessel at sea or an offshore drilling rig.
In addition, cell phones can serve as a backup if a vessel’s communications system is down, helping to maintain safe operations. Apps can be downloaded onto cell phones, giving workers access to valuable real-time information about weather conditions, high and low tides, maps, water depth, and more.
Dangers of Cell Phones on Ships
Onboard a vessel, cell phone use becomes a hazard when it distracts the crew from their duties. Distracted crewmembers can place a vessel and its crew at risk, particularly when a vessel is:
- Navigating an area of high-traffic density
- Experiencing rough seas or conditions of restricted visibility
- In the vicinity of offshore installations and other structures
- Making its approach to a port, harbor, or anchorage
Cell phone distractions have been responsible for a number of maritime accidents in the U.S. and elsewhere:
- In March 2022, the containership Ever Forward ran aground in the Chesapeake Bay. The vessel remained stuck for more than a month before it was able to be refloated. The Coast Guard determined that the pilot was distracted by a phone call when the accident took place.
- In May 2019, the third officer of the freight ferry Seatruck Progress was killed when he was hit by a semi-trailer being pushed ashore by a tractor unit in the UK port of Liverpool. A report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) concluded that the officer was speaking on a mobile phone with his back turned to the ramp and was not aware of the approaching trailer.
- In January 2016, the bulk carrier Aris T collided with tank barge WTC 3019, towing vessel Pedernales, and two facility structures on the Mississippi River near Norco, Louisiana. The collision left two dock workers injured and resulted in millions of dollars in property damage. The NTSB found that the accident occurred as a result of cell phone distraction during safety-critical navigational functions.
- In June 2004, the chemical tanker Attilio Ievoli ran aground on Lymington Banks near Southampton, England. The investigation into the accident revealed that cell phone use distracted the vessel’s master from his primary responsibilities and contributed to the accident.
It’s not just not maritime and offshore workers who are at risk of cell phone maritime accidents. According to Coast Guard’s 2021 Recreational Boating Statistics Report, operator inattention (such as cell phone use) was one of the leading causes of recreational boating accidents in the U.S.
Maritime Workers’ Rights After an Accident Caused By Cell Phone Use
All maritime employers are required by law to maintain a safe working environment for their employees. This includes rules and training for appropriate cell phone use aboard a vessel or offshore drilling platform. When they fail to do so, all kinds of accidents can happen, including fires, explosions, machine mishaps, electrocution, exposure to hazardous materials, slips, trips, falling overboard, and drowning to name just a few.
Maritime accidents can result in a number of serious, even fatal injuries, such as:
- Bone fractures
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
- Spinal cord injuries
- Head, neck, and back injuries
- Soft tissue injuries
- Internal organ injuries
When a maritime or offshore worker becomes injured as a result of the negligent actions of a coworker or employer, the Jones Act and other maritime laws give them the right to seek compensation for the damages caused by their injuries. Current and anticipated medical expenses, lost wages, loss of employment, pain, and suffering are some of the damages a maritime worker can experience after being injured in an on-the-job accident.
Speak to a New Orleans Maritime Accident Injury Attorney About Your Case
If you are a maritime or offshore worker who was injured in an on-the-job accident that was caused by negligent cell phone use, the best way to make sure your rights are protected is to speak to an attorney who understands maritime laws. They can help you file a claim, investigate your accident, determine the extent of your damages, negotiate a settlement, and represent you in court..
The New Orleans-based maritime law firm of Lambert Zainey has been protecting the rights of injured maritime workers and their families for over 40 years. We have recovered over a billion dollars in settlements for our clients, including workers and the families of workers injured and killed in the waters of the Gulf Coast and across the United States.