With a coastline of 2,800 miles on the Atlantic Ocean, Massachusetts has been home to shipbuilders, maritime workers, and fishermen since the Colonial era. Though there are many harbors and small ports in Massachusetts, most maritime activity is centered in Boston and four other cities. These facilities provide thousands of jobs to local seamen, fishermen, and longshore workers, but they’re also places where on-the-job accidents and injuries occur. Many of these accidents are the result of negligence on the part of employers or owners of unseaworthy vessels.
Massachusetts Ports and Maritime Accidents
There are 24 ports and harbors in the state of Massachusetts, but most of them are small local facilities that handle recreational boats and small fishing vessels. The state’s largest facility is located in the Port of Boston, which is situated in Boston Harbor and takes up 500 acres of waterfront adjacent to the city of Boston.
The Port of Boston is state-owned and is operated by the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport). Though the port has several maritime facilities, its two most important are the Conley Terminal that handles container and freight shipping, and the Cruiseport Boston passenger terminal. Around 1.5 million metric tons of cargo pass through Conley Terminal every year, and two of the world’s largest container lines are served there. Cruiseport Boston is used by 300,000 passengers a year and is the home port to Holland-America’s Maasdam, Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas, and Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Norwegian Dawn.
Other major Massachusetts ports include:
- Fore River Shipyard
- Port of New Bedford
- Port of Fall River
Most of these medium-sized ports are used for cruise vessels and fishing fleets. However, the port of Gloucester is undergoing a renovation program to shift its focus from commercial fishing to general maritime activities. With fish populations in the Atlantic decreasing, the fishing industry is stagnating. To preserve jobs in the Gloucester area and keep a maritime presence alive, the port is updating its facilities to handle freight ships and other commercial vessels.
Maritime jobs have always been an important part of Massachusetts economic health. They have also been some of the deadliest. Gloucester alone has lost over 10,000 seamen in shipwrecks and sinkings in its 350-year history. The North Atlantic is notorious for its bad weather and heavy seas, and many merchant ships and fishing vessels have gone down to the bottom of the sea.
In addition, many longshore workers, including stevedores, shipfitters, and heavy equipment operators are involved in work-related accidents every year. Ports and ships are notoriously hazardous workplaces, and an accident can occur in a split second. The pace of maritime work is brutal, and much of the equipment used by workers is heavy and dangerous. An empty 20-foot intermodal container, for example, weighs 4,850 lbs. When it’s fully loaded, the same container can weigh as much as 15 tons.
Maritime workers, whether they’re seamen or port employees, are at risk of being in a wide range of accidents. Slip-and-fall accidents, crushing impacts by heavy objects, exposure to chemicals or other toxic substances, fires, and falls overboard are among the most common categories of maritime accidents. As a result, the most common injuries are:
- Sprains and strains
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Neck, back, and spine injuries
- Respiratory ailments
- Mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos
- Drownings/near drownings
Resources for Injured Maritime Workers
If you’re a seaman and have been injured in an on-the-job accident, remember that it is not wise to speak to your employer’s insurance representative or anyone else except your physician while you’re being treated. Do not give any statements or sign anything beyond an initial accident report. Your accident may have occurred quickly and your memory may not be sharp, especially if you’re taking medication. No matter what the insurance company representatives tell you, do not talk to them. Their top priority is not your recovery or a fair deal. It is to give you the smallest amount of compensation as quickly as possible, even though the extent of your injuries may not be apparent.
For more information what rights you have under maritime law, please see our article Maritime Rights and Compensation.