Common Shipbreaking Injuries for Maritime Workers

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Shipbreaking is the practice of recycling end-of-life vessels, which makes it a worthy pursuit on the one hand, but on the other, it is an exceptionally dangerous industry closely associated with a wide range of deadly accidents.

If you or someone you love has been injured – or worse – in the course of shipbreaking, you need an experienced Texas maritime attorney in your corner.

What is Shipbreaking?

Shipbreaking refers to the life-threatening work of breaking down or demolishing massive ships that have reached the end of their usefulness. Ultimately, because of factors like the following, these vessels have a lifespan of only two or three decades:

  • Metal fatigue
  • Corrosion
  • Rust

As ships fall into disrepair over time, they are not only rendered less safe but also become more costly to operate due to the need for increased repairs and maintenance. Often, such ships are more valuable to the maritime companies that own them when they are recycled through shipbreaking.

Shipbreaking Accidents

The maritime industry is considered one of the most dangerous in a long line of dangerous industries, and shipbreaking has the distinction of being the most dangerous maritime job. Many shipbreaking operations are located in Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, and India, but an international shipbreaking site in Brownsville, Texas, has been in operation for decades.

There are many reports of dangerous shipbreaking accidents in Bangladesh, which has been criticized for failing to implement the necessary policies to protect shipbreakers.

The kinds of accidents that are most closely associated with shipbreaking include:

  • Explosions
  • Falling debris
  • Crushing incidents

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), factors that tend to make shipbreaking accidents more likely – and that also increase the risk that they will prove exceptionally dangerous – include:

  • Lack of adequate worker training
  • Lack of fire protection measures
  • Lack of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Lack of necessary emergency response, rescue, and first-aid services

Some of the most prominent risk factors include:

  • Working in close, confined, or enclosed quarters makes taking appropriate safety precautions more challenging, and that exacerbates other risk factors
  • Removing paint, oil, and fuel
  • Removing bilge and ballast water
  • Cutting and disposing of metal
  • Working on elevated surfaces – especially those that are near edges or deck openings – and working with scaffolds or ladders
  • Operating powered industrial trucks
  • Tank cleaning
  • Removing and disposing of ship machinery
  • Engaging in cutting and welding
  • Working with compressed gas

Shipbreaking Injuries

Shipbreaking accidents are all too common and all too dangerous. While the practice of shipbreaking can lead to every category of injury, some of the most common include:

  • Severe burns: The massive ships that are broken down in shipbreaking amount to floating buildings that power themselves. In the process, there are plenty of opportunities for explosions and fires that lead to life-threatening burns and smoke inhalation.
  • The effects of exposure to toxic chemicals: Shipbreakers tear down ships that have not only carried dangerous cargo but can also comprise dangerous components, such as asbestos, in older vessels. Exposure to these chemicals, toxic substances, gases, and oils can lead to asphyxiation, deadly cancers, and beyond.
  • Breaks, TBIs, spinal cord injuries, and internal injuries: Shipbreakers are often required to work from extreme heights and on dangerous edges, and falls can lead to complicated breaks, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), internal injuries such as life-threatening internal bleeding, spinal cord injuries that can be permanently paralyzing, and more.
  • Crush Injuries: The risk of being crushed between two unyielding surfaces or falling debris in the process of breaking down a boat is all too real and is often fatal.
  • Hearing loss: The intense sound generated when a ship is dismantled can lead to permanent hearing loss.

Obtaining the Help You Need

There are federal laws, including the Jones Act, in place that are designed to hold maritime companies responsible for their employees’ work-related injuries when the matter of negligence on the part of the employer can be established.

Ultimately, injured sea workers must be able to demonstrate negligence or fault on the part of one or more of the following to obtain compensation through the Jones Act:

  • The vessel’s owner
  • The vessel’s operator
  • The vessel’s officers
  • Fellow sea workers

Additionally, a defect in the vessel itself or its gear, tackle, or equipment will suffice. The Jones Act addresses losses such as the following for shipbreakers and their families (after fatal accidents):

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost income
  • Physical and emotional pain and suffering

An Experienced Texas Maritime Attorney Can Help

If you have been injured in the course of your work as a shipbreaker – or if you’ve lost a loved one to ship-breaking – having professional legal counsel on your side can make a significant difference in your ability to obtain the compensation to which you are entitled.

The compassionate maritime attorneys at Haun Mena in Houston understand the gravity of your situation and have the experience and focus on helping you get the compensation you deserve. Your claim and recovery are paramount, so please don’t wait to reach out and contact or call us at 713-561-5334 for more information today.

Maritime Injury FAQs

How do I know if I’m covered by the Jones Act?

If your job includes spending at least 30 percent of your working time on a vessel, you are covered by the Jones Act. As such, if you’re working as a shipbreaker, you are very likely covered.

Can I afford to hire a maritime attorney?

Reputable maritime attorneys work on contingency, which means your attorney won’t get paid unless you recover compensation for your losses.


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