Located in the Midwestern United States next to Lake Michigan, Illinois is a robust maritime industry. Although it is an inland state, Illinois is connected through the Port of Chicago to the Atlantic Ocean by way of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway. The Illinois River also connects the Port of Chicago to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The multiple waterways link Illinois to major ports throughout the world and creates nearly 7,000 maritime jobs in the Chicago area. However, many of these workers are at risk of on-the-job accidents and injuries caused by unseaworthy vessels or negligent employers.
Port of Chicago and Maritime Accidents
Illinois has 11 ports, the largest of which is the Port of Chicago. Though much of the port is operated by the Illinois International Port District, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for its main component of Port Calumet, which lies six miles inland from Lake Michigan. The Port of Chicago’s Iroquois Landing Lakefront Terminal is on the shores of Lake Michigan and it is a major intermodal container facility. These facilities handle an average of 895,000 short tons of cargo a year, Deep draft ships travel to and from Chicago through the St. Lawrence Seaway, while most of the cargo bound to the Gulf of Mexico is carried in barges down the Mississippi River via the Illinois River.
The Port of Chicago was once a major cruise ship destination. The shift of vacation-oriented passenger liners from the Great Lakes to the Caribbean in the 1960s left Illinois without the presence of major cruise lines such as Carnival or Royal Caribbean. However, there are a few small, regionally-based ships operated by the Great Lakes Cruise Company. Though these ships are home ported in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Port of Chicago is a popular destination.
As a result of this variety in port activity, maritime workers are at risk of being injured or killed in different types of accidents, including those that involve barges. Seamen working on the Gulf of Mexico trade routes are often hurt on barges used to carry low value or heavy bulk cargoes. Barges are flat-bottomed vessels with shallow drafts and no engines of their own. They must be pushed by towboats up and down rivers, often in large groups called trains-of-barges. While barges are an economical form of transportation, care is needed to operate them because they’re not self-propelled. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, an average of 10 seamen die in barge accidents every year, most of them in man-overboard incidents.
The leading causes of the 133 fatalities among seamen on barges between 2000 and 2012 are presented below according to frequency:
- Falling into water
- Getting struck by moving objects
- Crushed between objects
- Line handling accidents
- Collision with fixed objects
- Burns, including chemical and electrical
Seamen and longshoremen may also be injured in other types of accidents that can occur in port, on docked vessels, or on vessels underway. In many instances, maritime workers are injured in collisions between vessels, slip-trip-and fall accidents, falls from heights, winch and crane accidents, accidental exposure to dangerous chemicals, fires and explosions, mechanical asphyxiation, towline accidents, falls from gangways or Jacob’s ladders, and lifeboat drill accidents.
Maritime Workers’ Rights in Illinois
Maritime workers in Illinois who are injured on the job are entitled to various types of compensation and legal protections. The Jones Act, which is part of the larger Merchant Marine Act, allows seamen to collect maintenance and cure from their employers to cover daily expenses plus the cost of their medical treatment. The Jones Act also permits injured seamen to sue negligent employers if negligence or a state of unseaworthiness contributed in any way to the accident. Longshore workers at the Port of Chicago and other maritime facilities are not covered by the Jones Act. Instead, they are entitled to receive compensation for work-related injuries and illnesses under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA).
If you’ve been injured in a maritime accident in the navigable waters or ports of Illinois, keep in mind that you have legal rights and options. Maritime accidents and their injuries can leave seamen or port workers permanently disabled and unable to work. The Jones Act and LHWCA gives maritime workers rights and protections that compensate them for injuries and illnesses caused by others’ negligence. For more information, please refer to our articles Jones Act Lawyer and Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Act Compensation.