Are Companies Liable After Failing to Maintain Vessels?

The American offshore industry is no stranger to aging vessels. Experts say that vessels are going to start retiring faster than the rate they can be replaced. Because of this, it’s fair to assume that many older vessels will be at sea for longer than they should be.

Not only are aging ships an economic setback, but they also pose a risk to maritime workers. Offshore workers who are employed on these aging ships run a higher risk of being involved in accidents caused by poor upkeep.

Importantly, companies are legally responsible for accidents caused by poorly maintained ships. Maritime laws such as the Jones Act hold vessel owners accountable for preventable accidents—including those caused by cost-saving measures such as failing to maintain a vessel.

El Faro: Tragedy On a Poorly Maintained Vessel

The El Faro, a Seattle-owned cargo ship, sunk in the Caribbean with 33 people on board during Hurricane Joaquin. Investigators found that the ship owners, TOTE, made poor judgment calls in directing the ship, and the age of the ship was also a contributing factor to the problem. At 40 years old, the El Far was nearly 4 times older than the average age of American offshore vessels in use at the time.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation, the El Faro sunk because of “flooding in a cargo hold from an undetected open watertight scuttle and damaged seawater piping; loss of propulsion due to low lube oil pressure to the main engine resulting from a sustained list; and subsequent down flooding through unsecured ventilation closures to the cargo holds.”

In other words, the vessel wasn’t only old—it was poorly maintained. In addition to criticisms about the ship’s mechanical condition, the NTSB also found that it had lifeboats that were outdated and improperly maintained.

Arnold & Itkin Fights for the Rights of Maritime Workers

Ultimately, employers are responsible for making sure a vessel is seaworthy through proper maintenance. In the case of the El Faro, a combination of bad decisions, poor maintenance, and inadequate safety features meant that the cargo ship wasn’t just incapable of handling a severe storm—it was so unsafe it shouldn’t have been in operation.

Arnold & Itkin LLP represented widows who lost their husbands to the El Faro disaster. We fought to hold the company accountable, help our clients secure justice, and remind other vessel owners that proper maintenance should be their first priority. If you're suffering from an offshore injury, we're ready to fight for the answers you need to move forward.

To talk to one of our Houston offshore injury attorneys, fill out a free case evaluation!

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