Located in the Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. that is made up solely of islands. This makes the 50th state one of the most maritime-dependent places in the nation, since most goods from the mainland U.S. and other countries have to be shipped in by sea. The Port of Honolulu, located close to the Pearl Harbor Naval Station, is the state’s largest port. It can handle both container and passenger ships. The Port of Honolulu provides thousands of maritime jobs to seamen and longshore workers and is a key element of the Hawaiian economy. However, accidents and injuries cause many of these workers to lose wages, suffer from disabilities, or die on the job as a result of unseaworthy vessels and employer negligence.
Hawaii and Maritime Accidents
Because Hawaii is in the northern edge of Polynesia, it imports 80% of the goods needed by the residents of the eight main islands. The Port of Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, is the state’s chief maritime hub and handles over 80% of the ship traffic to the Hawaiian archipelago. Per government statistics cited by World Port Source, the Port of Honolulu served 8013 commercial ships, including 4431 incoming vessels and 3582 outgoing, in 2011. That same year, port workers handled nearly 12.7 million tons of cargo. In addition, nearly 400,000 passengers passed through Honolulu’s cruise terminal in 2011.
Honolulu’s harbor operates on a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week schedule. Maritime workers have lucrative jobs, but the nature and pace of the work are physically demanding. The work environment in a port facility or a ship requires exacting attention to detail and strict safety protocols.
However, maritime workers are at a great risk for on-the-job accidents. People, vehicles, and heavy equipment confined in a limited amount of space can be a dangerous combination that often results in tragic industrial accidents. To make matters worse, some maritime employers neglect such things as proper maintenance of ships or port equipment, skimp on training personnel, or overlook workplace safety regulations. Such neglect increases the risks to maritime workers and causes a significant rise in job-related accidents.
There are many accidents that can take place either at a port facility or on a ship at sea. Port workers have been injured or killed by forklifts whose operators’ forward visibility was blocked by the load they were moving. Poorly trained workers have injured fellow seamen or longshore workers by improperly operating cranes or other heavy equipment. Ships have exploded or caught fire at sea because their owners don’t repair or replace worn-out fuel lines in the engineering spaces. Negligence by maritime employers and/or co-workers is the leading cause of maritime accidents that result in injuries or wrongful deaths.
If You’ve Been Injured in Hawaii
General maritime law and bills such as the Jones Act and the Longshore Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) protect seamen in the event that an injury was caused by the negligence of another party. If you’ve been injured in Hawaii while on the job, your employer may be liable for damages. Along with maintenance and cure benefits, which are provided regardless of how the accident happened, you may also be entitled to damages for lost wages, pain, suffering, and much more. It’s important to document the accident and fill out an accident report, yet, it’s crucial to make sure you never sign anything that you feel uncomfortable with. An experienced maritime lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and what your options are.