Situated on the western bank of the Hudson River in New York, Albany is a mid-sized city that offers a large array of services in the maritime industry. The Port of Albany, which serves as an entrance to the United States via the Hudson River, has roughly 1,382 employees, many of which who are seamen working on vessels, unloading cargo, and working in the commercial fishing sector. As with most other major ports in the United States, there are several maritime accidents and injuries each year at the Port of Albany. While some accidents couldn’t be prevented, several other accidents and injuries stem directly from unseaworthy vessels and employer negligence.
Port of Albany and Maritime Accidents
Officially, Albany’s maritime facility is known as the Port of Albany, but it used to be called the Port of Albany-Rensselaer. It is shared by two cities, Albany and Rensselaer, and began operations when Franklin D. Roosevelt was governor of New York. Most of the port property (202 acres) is within Albany’s jurisdiction, while 34 acres belong to Rensselaer. Because the Hudson River has a deepwater channel, ships can sail upstream for 135 miles from New York City and the Atlantic Ocean. The port handles hundreds of vessels a year, including large container ships.
The port provides jobs for both seamen and longshore workers, the latter of which are employed by Federal Marine Terminals, Inc. The company is responsible for operating the terminal and providing stevedoring services. Both groups of maritime workers carry out important but dangerous jobs, including loading and unloading cargo. Because the maritime environment is inherently full of hazards, accidents involving seamen and port workers do occur. Sometimes they happen with no apparent cause, but there are incidents when negligence and poor work practices are causal factors.
On December 9, 2003, the large Dutch freighter MV Stellamare capsized at the Port of Albany while it was loading a 308-ton generator into its cargo hold. The crew, which was mostly Russian, had already loaded a similar generator aboard. Miscommunications between the Dutch officers and the Russian seamen caused mismanagement of the ship’s ballast tank. This caused the vessel to list to port. At first, the list was barely noticeable, but the heavy cargo inside the hold and the imbalance in the ballast tank caused the list to increase. The Stellamare rolled over quickly, killing three of the seamen aboard.
Maritime Injury Compensation
Maritime workers are divided into two specialized groups. Seamen work exclusively aboard a ship or in a fleet of ships for a specific period of time, usually 30% of the year. Longshore and harbor workers include most employees of a port who work directly with the loading and unloading of cargo, handle ship repairs, and participate in the building of ships.
When maritime workers are injured on the job, which group they belong to determines the type of compensation they are eligible to receive. Seamen and certain offshore workers are covered by the Merchant Marine Act, which is commonly referred to as the Jones Act. This federal law was passed in 1920 because seamen are not covered by standard workers’ compensation plans. It provides seamen with certain benefits, as well as the right to file legal claims against their employer if negligence was a causal factor in their injuries.
Port workers who meet the qualifications specified under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) receive benefits that cover medical expenses if they are injured or contract job-related illnesses while working in a port or on the navigable waters of the U.S. In cases where a longshore worker is killed on the job, death benefits will be granted to the employee’s dependents. Because Jones Act and LHWCA claims are complex and must be filed within a certain time limit, assistance from a maritime attorney with experience in admiralty law is needed.
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