Learning From Historic 21st Century U.S. Maritime Disasters

June 1, 2021

Generally speaking, jobs or businesses that involve being offshore are fundamentally dangerous.  For example, offshore workers encounter dangers on a daily basis that expose them to serious injuries or death. According to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (“BSEE”), there were six workers were killed while working offshore.  Moreover, 222 workers sustained injuries while working offshore—these numbers total more than the previous two years combined.

As will be shown below, the dangers of being on the water are not just limited to workers.  This article outlines some of the most devastating offshore incidents, the causes of these incidents, and the rights of those who are injured in an offshore incident.

Marine Vessel Conception

On September 2, 2019, 33 passengers and 1 crew member were sleeping aboard the 75-foot marine vessel, the Conception, when it caught on fire at around 3:00 am.  Only five crew members survived this incident, despite their heroic efforts to place an emergency mayday call to the United States Coast Guard, and their attempt to alert the other passengers aboard the ship.

This tragic incident occurred at Santa Cruz Island, California, and was determined to be one of the most catastrophic maritime incidents to occur on the shores of California since 1865.  Even though the exact causes of the fire may never be known, the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) and other agencies—after nearly 18 months of investigation—believe that the fire started as a result of a faulty electrical distribution system.  It is also believed that the vessel’s condition—an inadequate amount of smoke detectors—also contributed to the tragic deaths of the vessel’s crew members.

El Faro

On October 1, 2015, the 190-foot ship, El Faro, was making a routine trip between the Bahamas and the coast of Florida.  In this incident, the El Faro found itself in the middle of category 3 Hurricane Joaquin.  At around 7:00 am, the captain of the ship (Michael Davidson), initiated an emergency call to for help as the ship began to take on water.

According to reports, Captain Davidson described that the ship had experienced a “hull breach” and “lost [its] main propulsion unit.”  Within an hour of Captain Davidson’s call, all communication between the United States Coast Guard and Captain Davidson was lost.  Tragically, all 33 members aboard El Faro died.

After search efforts which lasted more than a month, the ship was discovered three miles down to the ocean floor.  Many critical factors outlining the causes of the incident were discussed by Captain Jason Neubauer, chairman of the United States Coast Guard’s marine board of investigation of the 2015 El Faro incident.

A turning point in the investigation was the retrieval of the El Faro’s voyage data recorder, which is a device that collects information and can contain important statistical information such as audio recordings, weather conditions, and other mechanical defects that exist prior to an incident.

After more than a 2-year investigation, the following factors were relied upon by the marine board investigation in order to make its determination regarding the causes of the incident: (1) many of the crew members expressed concerns about the catastrophic conditions as the weather worsened; (2) the captain disregarded these concerns and decided to continue traveling into the storm; and (3) the 1970 steam ship, which was grandfathered (meaning that it did not have to meet certain safety standards), was discovered to be in violation of many safety protocols, including inadequate lifeboats.

Table Rock Lake Duck Boat Incident

On July 19, 2018, 31 crew members boarded a duck boat owned by “Ride the Ducks,” which is known for providing one-hour tours on the water to interested tourists.  At the time the boat left the dock, the weather appeared to be clear and suitable for the boat to proceed on its tours.  In reality, the weather was not suitable to be on the water.

According to local weather forecasters, the conditions on the day of the incident would substantially worsen at around 6:00 pm (the time the duck boat left the dock).  The investigation revealed that at 6:28 pm Charles Baltzell, the company’s operations supervisor in charge of monitoring the weather that day, decided that it would be safe to continue with the scheduled tours.  At 6:32 pm—just four minutes later—a severe thunderstorm warning was issued near Table Rock Lake.  At around 7:00 pm, the devastating storm sent 75-mph winds and heavy rains to the lake where the duck boat traveled.  Unfortunately, the boat sank as it was unable to sustain these strong winds and severe weather conditions.  The boat sank soon thereafter.

To the investigator’s surprise, nobody on the boat was wearing a lifejacket at the time the storm overtook Table Rock Lake.  Survivors on the boat described the experience as “horrific” and “devastating.”  Out of the 33 crew members, only 14 survived.

Capsizing of the Seacor Power

On April 13, 2021 at around 4:30 pm the United States Coast Guard received notification that an estimated 175-foot vessel capsized 8 miles south of Grand Isle, Louisiana.  According to multiple reports, there were 19 people on board the vessel, which was described as a Seacor Power commercial liftboat.  Liftboats are generally used to transport workers to oil rigs and offshore platforms.

According to reports, the boat was owned by a company based out of Houston, Texas.  Just two hours before the incident, a local weather report had released information stating that the Grand Isle and Greater New Orleans region had sustained a significant blow from a major thunderstorm.

Per the report, thousands were left without power “after thunderstorms brought heavy rain and winds to Southeast Louisiana.”  This was just the beginning of the unforgettable storm which ultimately caused the boat to capsize with all of its crew members on board.

On April 15, 2021, U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Carlos Garza declared the capsizing of the Seacor Power liftboat as a “major marine casualty.”

According to reports, the vessel had set sail to make a delivery on the day of the incident.  Despite the United States Coast Guard and other Good Samaritan crews’ tireless efforts to rescue the passengers on the vessel, many of the crew members were either found dead or not found at all.

Emmy Rose

On November 23, 2020, an 82-foot-long fishing vessel named the Emmy Rose sank off the coast of Maine.  Four crew members were aboard the boat, and none survived.  Until recently (more than six months after the incident, search crews were unable to find the boat.  The cause of this incident is still undetermined, but it is believed that extreme weather conditions played a major role.

Why Do These Maritime Incidents Occur?

The tragic stories referenced above are just examples of many devastating maritime incidents that have taken place offshore in United States history.  As mentioned above, many seamen and tourists have died or suffered severe injuries while aboard a vessel.  The causes of these incidents can vary in many instances:

  • Poor decision making (e.g., such as operating a vessel when weather conditions are unsafe)
  • Unseaworthy vessels
  • Failure to maintain the vessel in repair
  • Failure to maintain the vessel in compliance with the applicable regulations
  • Failure to train, supervise, or manage crew members
  • Rushing the work
  • Placing profits over safety

If you or a loved one has been injured while working offshore, you may have rights to compensation under the law.  Examples of these damages are:

  • Past medical expenses
  • Future medical expenses
  • Loss of earning capacity sustained in the past
  • Loss of earning capacity that may be sustained in the future
  • Past pain and suffering
  • Future pain and suffering
  • Past mental anguish
  • Future mental anguish
  • Disfigurement
  • Impairment
  • Loss of consortium

The Houston maritime lawyers at Morrow & Sheppard have years of experience helping individuals and family members recover these damages as a result of an offshore accident. If you would like to speak with a maritime attorney, call us today at (800) 489-2216 for a free consultation.

Get a Free Case Review by Calling Morrow & Sheppard Now.

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