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When is a Vessel "Unseaworthy?"

Written by™ on behalf of Carolyn M. Latti with Latti & Anderson LLP.

When is a Vessel "Unseaworthy?"

In maritime law, it’s important to understand that if you’re serving in the military or in some other fashion that involves a “vessel”—such as a boat, ship, barge, or even an oil rig or platform—that vessel may be considered “unseaworthy.”

However, What Exactly Is an “Unseaworthy” Vessel?

When a vessel suffers from certain conditions that would make it very difficult for someone onboard to conduct operations, that generally means the vessel is “unseaworthy.” In general, the unseaworthiness depends on whether or not those conditions could’ve been corrected or avoided, hence if some sort of incident occurs resulting injury or damage, fault falls on the employer responsible.

Issues can include:

  • Defective gear
  • Insufficient personnel
  • Improper stowage
  • Worn anti-slip surfaces

You must prove negligence to justify compensation. You can relate this to workers’ comp cases, in fact—very much similar to how injuries happening on the premises may constitute claims for compensation. You, however—as a seaman or maritime worker—shouldn’t be the one to judge and determine level of unseaworthiness. Rather, a qualified maritime attorney must examine the facts of the case and make an assessment.

Some common examples of unseaworthiness would be a failure to remove asbestos, for one. Poor design of the vessel would lend claim to instability while at high seas. Sometimes a lack of elevators and other lifting apparatus may be considered grounds for unseaworthiness. This also includes issues with scaffolding and safety lines.

Even a lack of ropes and lines may constitute a claim for an unseaworthy vessel, plus lack of headroom in bunk compartments, ladders and other accommodations. If the vessel doesn’t even have a galley or cooking facilities, maritime workers can apply for a personal injury claim in the event of injuries or proof that required rations aren’t being provided.

Some other factors include:

  • Lack of hoists
  • Lack of pulleys
  • Lack of cranes
  • No hatches or doors
  • No portholes or windows
  • No medical treatment rooms or supplies

An attorney would have to review the entire vessel via investigation, documenting all items, supplies and staff to ensure the most accurate determination. Once all of that information is collected, a lawyer can then decide if it’s a case worthy of pursuing.

If You Have Questions About Maritime Law and Unseaworthiness….

It’s imperative that you seek the advisement of the appropriate attorney, specializing in maritime law. You’ll want to sit down for a proper consultation and go over the facts, ensuring your situation applies to the specific laws and statutes. Consider your options carefully, because if you were injured while on the job, you do have your rights. Contact an experienced maritime attorney immediately.


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