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A closer look at unseaworthiness

On Behalf of | May 24, 2019 | Maritime Law |

Seamen enjoy life on the sea and often travel to places that others only dream about during their normal work hours. These jobs might come with some risks, but that is an occupational hazard.

However, no seamen should have to put up with the risk of a life-changing injury because their vessel—the place where they could live and work for days at a time—is unseaworthy.

What makes a ship unseaworthy?

The definition of unseaworthiness that most people know revolves around a ship’s ability to sail. In the past, unseaworthy ships were the ones that were possibly in danger of sinking due to damage or lack of maintenance.

That definition still applies. However, the Jones Act adjusted it slightly to include the actual living and working conditions of the seamen. A vessel might be just fine to sail, but it is not safe for any seaman if there are: 

  • Slick decks from grease or oil
  • Dangerous conditions in general
  • Faulty equipment due to lack of maintenance
  • Lack of proper training that puts seamen in danger

That addition holds captains and ship owners responsible for providing seamen with a safe place to work. And that requires them to properly maintain the ship itself as well as all the equipment on the vessel.

And the standards for maintenance are high

The Jones Act significantly increases a ship owner’s and captain’s liability to ensure that they meet seamen’s high safety needs.

That higher standard of liability is the key in any event where a seaman suffers a severe work injury. If seamen sustain an injury because of hazards on the ship, they only have to show that the conditions of their workplace threatened their safety to prove the negligence of their captain or the ship owner.

So, what do captains and ship owners owe seamen?

As a seaman, you understand the chain of command. However, the chain of command only works if those in command do their duty as well. And they have a strict and absolute duty to:

  • Provide seamen with the equipment they need 
  • Give seamen adequate training of proper procedures
  • Complete all ship repairs as soon as possible
  • Inspect the vessel regularly
  • Maintain a high level of safety

In short, captains and ship owners owe it to seamen to keep their workplace safe, especially when seamen already have other hazards to worry about in their line of work.

If seamen cannot depend on their captains to provide them with a safe workplace, they can rely on the protections that the Jones Act provides them. With the help of the Jones Act—and an experienced maritime attorney—seamen have the right to hold their employers responsible for their injury on an unseaworthy vessel.