Located on the northeastern tip of New England, Maine is a state with a long maritime tradition. Its coastline along the Atlantic Ocean is home to several deepwater ports, including Portland, Searsport, Bucksport, and Eastport. Along with various cruise ports, ferry lines, and commercial fishing fleets, these facilities provide thousands of jobs to Maine residents. However, many maritime workers are injured in accidents while working aboard ships or in port facilities, often as a result of negligent employers or unseaworthy vessels.
Maine Maritime Accidents and Injuries
Maine’s long history as a maritime state runs as far back as colonial times. When Maine was part of the Massachusetts Bay colony, its straight fir trees were used by the British Royal Navy to make masts for its large fleet of warships. This seafaring tradition has been a constant since Maine achieved statehood in 1820, evolving along with the changes from wind-powered sail to steam-powered turbines. But Maine’s maritime history is marked by tragedies at sea and in ports, with hundreds of sinkings, fires, and maritime facility accidents dating as far back as the 18th Century.
Currently, there are over 40 ports and harbors in Maine, but only a fraction of these are major ports capable of handling large freighters or cruise ships. Most of the smaller ports and harbors are used by commercial fishing boats and recreational vessels. Maine’s larger ports include:
Most of the ports listed above are Maine’s cargo ports; Bath and Kittery also operate large shipyards that build vessels for commercial companies as well as for the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard.
Cargo ports are full of activity day and night. Some of Maine’s maritime facilities handle over 5 million barrels of fuels and other liquid products, especially Searsport and other locations in the Penobscot Bay area. Working in an environment filled with ships of all types, heavy machinery, and a plethora of hazards such as slippery decks and loose Jacob’s ladders is dangerous and difficult. As a result, many seamen and longshore workers are frequently injured in slip-trip-and falls, by strikes by heavy objects, burned in shipboard fires and explosions, or suffer exposure to toxic fumes and asbestos fibers.
Maine’s commercial fishermen take on some of the most dangerous jobs in the maritime industry. According to government statistics cited by the Center for Public Integrity, commercial fishing was named the deadliest profession in America during the four years between 2007 and 2010. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reported that between 2000 and 2010, the death rate among commercial fishermen was 31 times higher than the average workplace average for the U.S.
Jones Act and Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Act Compensation
Maritime workers who are injured on the job are granted rights for compensation by two federal laws – the Jones Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Act (Longshore Act or LHWCA).
The Jones Act is part of the larger Merchant Marine Act of 1920. It provides special protection to seamen and allows them to file lawsuits against employers, ship owners, and captains if their on-the-job injuries were caused by negligence or because they worked in an unseaworthy vessel.
The Longshore Act is a workers’ compensation plan that covers stevedores, longshore workers, and other maritime professionals who are not covered under the auspices of the Jones Act. The Longshore Act entitles an injured worker to receive temporary compensation equal to two-thirds of an average week’s wages during medical treatment. After that, a worker may receive either permanent or temporary disability payments, scheduled awards for injured body parts, and death benefits for surviving dependents in case of wrongful or job-related death.
Pursuing claims under the Jones Act or Longshore Act involves processes that are complex, require a large amount of research and paperwork, and are subject to statutes of limitation. This makes the hiring of a maritime attorney an important prerequisite before filing a claim for compensation.