Located in the extreme northwest of North America, Alaska is the largest of the 50 states in the Union and has the longest coastline. Although it is sparsely populated, it is the home of a busy maritime industry with a focus on commercial fishing, sea transportation of oil and natural gas, and tourism. However, the harsh weather and rough waters off Alaska’s coast are just two factors that make seamen’s jobs particularly dangerous. Sailing on vessels that are unseaworthy or working for negligent employers significantly raises the likelihood that a seaman will be injured or killed in a maritime accident.
The Most Common Types of Maritime Accidents in Alaska:
- Crab Boat Accidents: Crab fisherman work long hours on the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea, and the Aleutian Islands, which brings in 1/3 of the nation’s crab catches. Since crabbing brings such lucrative results, many seamen are forced to work in unsafe conditions for unusually long hours, resulting in a myriad of accidents and injuries.
- Trawler Accidents: Factory trawlers account for several injuries in Alaska. Along with working long hours, issues such as broken nets and machinery have caused arrays of accidents and mishaps.
- Cruise Ship Accidents: Although Alaska’s cruise ship industry is a crucial part of the state’s economy, accidents aboard cruise ships are common and can happen due to a number of reasons, including slip and falls, fires, falling overboard, and capsizing.
- Dock Accidents: Dock work can be as dangerous as being at sea, especially if dock workers aren’t thoroughly trained on safety precautions and procedures. Loading large cargo in tight quarters is extremely risky and without the proper training and supervision, accidents can happen easily and are often fatal.
The Alaska Fishermen’s Fund
Alaska is the only state in the nation that provides seamen with a fund set up specifically for commercial fishermen who’ve been involved in a maritime accident. Although it’s considered the last resort after other options, such as insurance and public programs have been exhausted, the fund provides compensation of up to $10,000 for emergency injuries.
“It’s an emergency medical fund. It pays after private insurance has been billed or public assistance was provided. To qualify for benefits, you must have a valid commercial fishing license at the time of the injury. The injury must be directly connected to your commercial fishing activity and have occurred in Alaska or Alaskan waters,” states Velma Thomas of the Alaska Department of Labor.
Other Forms of Assistance in Alaska
As with other states in the nation, Alaska seamen are also entitled to maintenance and cure benefits, regardless of how the injury took place. However, seamen are also entitled to benefits under general maritime law if the injury was a result of the negligence of another party. For example, if a seaman was made to work aboard an unseaworthy vessel and in turn was injured, the employer may be liable for damages.
If you’ve been injured on the job and feel your rights are not being met, it’s important to never sign any paperwork from insurance adjusters until seeking legal representation. For more information, consult with an experienced Alaska maritime attorney.