Gennusa & Piacun

Admiralty / Maritime Law

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Offshore fishermen face special hazards

The offshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico can be a very dangerous place if you are a commercial fisherman. For instance, over the span of 15 years from 2000 to 2014, 164 workers died from traumatic injuries while working in fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Of those statistics, from 2000 to 2009, there were 115 deaths, with the other 49 falling in the half-decade from 2010 to 2014. In the prior decade, the primary cause of death was from falling overboard.

Disaster's effects still linger

During the first half of the latter decade, however, most offshore victims died as a result of vessel disasters. Most notably, the Deepwater Horizon explosion killed 11 men and injured another 17. It also caused a catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf that still affects residents, recreational and commercial fishermen, and aquatic life to this day.

How to prevent deaths from falling overboard

The single most important lifesaving factor in these type of accidents is for the crewmembers to wear personal flotation devices (PFD) at all times when they are on deck. In the 13 drowning deaths from 2010 to 2014, none of the deceased crew members had on their PFDs. In more than half of these fatalities, no one saw the victims fall into the water. Some victims were fishing alone, while others were by themselves on the deck.

Their falls occurred because they either tripped over or got tangled up in their fishing gear, or lost their balance on a rocking boat.

These lives could have been saved if the men were wearing PFDs and if a man overboard alarm system was engaged on the boat. Other vital survival components are re-boarding ladders and recovery devices. Each vessel should also conduct man-overboard drills every month.

Avoid vessel disasters with these tips

Events that can force fishing boat crews to abandon ship include:

  • Groundings
  • Sinkings
  • Fires
  • Capsizings

The main causes of fatal vessel disasters are collisions, instability, flooding and allisions (e.g. hitting stationary objects).

Again, monthly drills on the procedures for fires, flooding and abandoning ship can save lives. All commercial fishermen should take marine safety classes every five years.

Other safety precautions include performing routine maintenance tasks safely to prevent explosions and fires, and ensuring the integrity of the boat to keep it watertight.

Were you injured on a fishing boat in the Gulf of Mexico?

You may be able to be compensated for your injuries, damages and other losses. Maritime laws are different from the laws on shore, however. Learning about your rights and responsibilities after a maritime injury is always prudent.

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