553 Foot Motor Vessel Detained by Coast Guard in Washington Due to Fire Hazards Found Onboard
A Hong Kong-flagged vessel was detained in Longview, Washington by the United States Coast Guard following a routine inspection that revealed safety discrepancies on board. The dangers were primarily fire hazards, including excessive oil and oily water mixtures in the bilges, excessive oil in the engine room, and oil-saturated lagging insulation throughout the engine room. Other notable safety violations included a fire door that could not be opened from inside the space and three generators and boiler burner with active lube oil leaks, causing pooling of lube oil beneath the equipment.
These types of conditions are monitored by the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure safety for the seamen onboard. Maritime and Admiralty law has long held that seamen should recover for injuries sustained due to an unseaworthy vessel. A shipowner is under a duty to furnish a vessel and appurtenances reasonably fit for their intended use. A shipowner does not have to actually know of the unseaworthy condition to be held liable for injuries that occur as a result of the unseaworthiness. The U.S. Supreme Court firmly established in Muhnich v. Southern S.S. Co., 321 U.S. 96, 100 (1944) that due diligence was not enough to relieve the owner of his obligation to seamen to furnish adequate appliances. Thus, proof of negligence by the shipowner is not necessary for
seamen to be compensated.
What makes a vessel unseaworthy and who may recover has been determined over the years by the United States appellate court system. Soon after the decision in Muhnich, the Supreme Court held that the duty of maintaining a seaworthy vessel extended to those who performed work traditionally done by seamen (See Seas Shipping Co. v. Sieracki, 328 U.S. 85 (1946)) and that a shipowner was also absolutely liable for injuries caused by unseaworthy equipment brought aboard the vessel by third persons (See Alaska SS. Co. v Petterson, 347 U.S. 396 (1954)). However, the Supreme Court and Circuit Courts have held that the duty of the owner to provide a seaworthy vessel and appliance must exist both before and during the voyage. In Cookingham v. United States, 184 F.2d 213 (3d Cir. 1950), the court refused to allow recovery for a cook who slipped on some jello while descending a stairway. The court found that while there is absolute liability on the part of the shipowner for a seaworthy vessel, an owner is not required to keep appliances free from transitory, or temporary, unsafe conditions resulting form their use.
The Washington maritime attorneys John Merriam and Gordon Webb together have over 50 years of experience litigating admiralty law cases on behalf of merchant seamen. After 15 years of combined experience working at sea, they understand the challenges and nature of work seamen face on a daily basis. If you have been injured on an unseaworthy vessel contact one of the maritime law offices today at either our Seattle office at 206.729.5252 or our Bellevue office at 425.454.3800.