Maritime Casualties Must be Reported
The U.S. Coast Guard requires ship captains to report, "any occurrence on the navigable waters of the United States, or anywhere if a U.S. documented vessel is involved, which results in…an injury which requires professional medical treatment beyond first aid or death to any person." Failure to do so defies maritime law and may indicate an attempt by a ship operator to cover up a serious incident, or a long history of unsafe conditions or poor maintenance.
Under rule 46 CFR § 4.03 1, if the owner, agent, master or person in charge of the vessel on which the incident occurs does not report that accident, he or she can be levied with a fine of up to $100,000 and be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. The correct way to report a maritime accident is through use of Form CG-2692.
In addition to accidents that occur on a ship, accidents occurring on all Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) facilities and Commercial Diving incidents originating at an OCS facility must be reported using this same form. A specific list of every incident that requires reporting through Form CG-2692 can be found here.
Widespread Underreporting of Maritime Accidents
In a 2011 study published in Accident Analysis & Prevention, researchers concluded that 50% of all accidents that occur at sea are never reported. For every accident that is reported, there is another that occurs that we never hear about. Conducted for risk prevention management, the study recommended that risk analysis consultants plan for a large margin of underreporting when analyzing maritime vessels.
Reporting Hazardous Conditions
Another stipulation of maritime law is that ship operators must report any "hazardous condition" on board their vessels, including but not limited to loss of power, steering, or propulsion. Failure to do so can result in the same penalties as those incurred for not reporting an injury or death.
Poor understanding of a ship’s hazards can lead to massive acts of negligence. For example, in October 2015, the El Faro traveled through Hurricane Joaquin despite being scheduled for massive repairs. The ship had a history that included over 20 instances of engine failure and other issues. Its route through Joaquin caused the tragic loss of the ship's 33 crew members.
TOTE Maritime, who owned the El Faro, experienced a second incident of total engine failure on another of its ships only weeks after the El Faro went missing. Thankfully, the second incident took place in calm seas, and help was eventually provided. Regardless, a history of engine failure is something employers are legally obligated to address for your safety.
The Role of Accountability
Ultimately, the idea behind obligating employers to report equipment failures and injuries is accountability. Employers should keep their crew members safe through proper training, well-maintained equipment, and safe work environments. Their failures deserve to be public knowledge for the sake of their current and prospective employees. More importantly, having a record forces employers to address their own safety issues openly and honestly. Cutting corners becomes more difficult (and perhaps incriminating) when an employer has a record for valuing profits over the lives of its crew.
If your or a loved one suffered a serious injury on board a vessel and it has not been reported to the Coast Guard, you may need to speak with an experienced maritime injury attorney to ensure your legal rights are protected. Contact the Jones Act attorneys at Arnold & Itkin today for a free and confidential legal consultation.