Articles Posted in Unseaworthiness

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On Saturday, the Seattle-based crab boat F/V DESTINATION went missing in the Bering Sea, approximately two miles off of St. George Island, with six crewmembers aboard.  St. George Island is located about 650 miles west of Kodiak Island, and has approximately 100 residents.  The DESTINATION was on its way to begin the snow crab season.

The vessel’s emergency locator beacon (EPIRB) was activated at 6:11 a.m. on Saturday, and the U.S. Coast Guard and volunteers searched for nearly three days for the vessel and crew, without success.  The EPIRB can be activated manually, or activates automatically upon hitting sea water.  The Coast Guard received no mayday call from the vessel, which has led to speculation that whatever befell the vessel happened quickly.  Volunteer vessels assisted the Coast Guard search, as well as individuals on ATVs along the shoreline of St. George Island.  There are high cliffs along the shore of St. George, which provided volunteers a vantage point to look out to sea for evidence of the DESTINATION or debris from the vessel.

Search crews reported 30 mph winds, five to eight-foot waves, and air temperature of 20 degrees.  The Bering Sea is known for bad weather this time of year.  In such temperatures, ice can build up on a boat, reducing stability and buoyancy.

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A vessel may be rendered unseaworthy because of improperly maintained surfaces that are slippery and are prone to cause injuries. Compare Nicroli v. Den Norske Afrika-Og Australielinie Wilhelmsens Dampskibs-Aktieselskab, 332 F.2d 651, 654 (2d Cir. 1964) (affirming finding of unseaworthiness where wet and melted sugar had made the deck slippery), Troupe v. Chicago, D. & G. Bay Transit Co., 234 F.2d 253, 258 (2d Cir. 1956) (holding that triable issues of fact existed as to whether the vessel was unseaworthy because certain steps “were so painted and maintained as to be excessively slippery, especially when covered with water from a rain”), Courville v. Cardinal Wireline Specialists, Inc., 775 F. Supp. 929, 936 (W.D. La. 1991) (finding unseaworthiness “because of the absence of non-skid tape or some other appropriate skid resistant surface on the steep steps”), Jiminez v. United States, 321 F. Supp. 232, 233 (S.D.N.Y. 1970) (finding unseaworthiness where de-greaser solvent created a slippery condition and  [26] was allowed to remain unwiped while the workers lunched elsewhere without roping off the ladder or putting up any warning), and In re Sirret Offshore Towing Co., No. 96cv1228, 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13408, 1997 WL 539923, at *4 (E.D. La. Sept. 2, 1997) (finding that the vessel was unseaworthy in part because of the lack of anti-skid paint or mats), with Santamaria v. The SS Othem, 272 F.2d 280, 281 (2d Cir. 1959) (holding that “a deck made slippery [only] by rainwater does not constitute an unseaworthy condition”); See Drejerwski v. C.G. Willis, Inc., 587 F. Supp. 1515, 1517 (E.D. Pa. 1984) (holding that the jury could properly have found the barge owner negligent because the barge owner should  have known that the epoxy paint used on the barge would be “dangerously slippery in inclement weather” and “should have chosen a non-skid paint instead”).

If you sustain an injury as a result of a slippery condition on deck, it is important that you document what you slipped on in the incident report and take photographs of the condition, if possible.  You should also obtain the contact information for all witnesses who were present at the time of your injury.  Slips and falls out on deck are a common cause of serious injuries that can be prevented with regular maintenance of the deck and application of non-skid surfaces.

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In order to qualify for coverage under the Jones Act and other general maritime law remedies, a seaman must be in the service of the vessel at the time of the injury or illness.  Whether a seaman is in the service of the vessel, is a recurring issue in maritime injury litigation, but is broadly construed by the courts in favor of coverage for the seaman.

The responsibility of vessel owners to seamen for maintenance, cure, and unearned wages is to be construed “broadly, when an issue concerning … scope arises”.  Aguilar v. Standard Oil Co., 318 U.S. 724, 729 (1943).  The U.S. Supreme Court held, “the words ‘in the course of his employment’ as used in the Jones Act were not restricted to injuries occurring on navigable waters, … they were broadly used by Congress in support of ‘all the constitutional power it possessed’”.  Braen v. Pfeifer Oil Transp. Co., 361 U.S. 129, 130-31 (1959).  “[T]he nature and foundations of the liability require that it be not narrowly confined or whittled down by restrictive and artificial distinctions defeating its broad and beneficial purposes.  If leeway is to be given in either direction, all the considerations which brought the liability into being dictate it should be in the sailor’s behalf.”  Aguilar, 318 U.S. at 735.

Whether a seaman is “in the course of employment” is a function of “1) the degree of control the employer-vessel owner had over the seaman at the time of injury; and 2) whether the seaman, at the time of injury, was on personal business or on a mission for the benefit of his employer or attending to the business of the employer.”  Lee v. Mississippi River Grain Elevator, Inc., 591 So.2d 1371, 1373 (La. App. 1991).

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