Located in the Southeast region of the U.S., North Carolina has a long-standing maritime tradition dating back to colonial times. The North Carolina State Ports Authority (NCSPA) currently operates two seaports in Wilmington and Morehead City and is planning to build an international port in Southport, on the site of the existing Southport Marina. These maritime facilities create thousands of jobs for local longshore workers and seamen and contribute millions of dollars to North Carolina’s economy. However, many maritime workers are at risk of being in job-related accidents caused by unseaworthy vessels and/or employer negligence.
North Carolina’s Maritime Industry and Related Accidents
North Carolina’s largest maritime facility is the Port of Wilmington. It is located in the Cape Fear tidewater region along the Cape Fear River. Its 42-ft deep navigational channel and recently upgraded post-Panamax container cranes make Wilmington one of the few Southern ports with available mooring space and storage areas for containers and cargo capable of handling larger, state-of-the-art ships. Per the NCSPA figures for the 2014 fiscal year, the Port of Wilmington has handled a total of 2,636,137 tons of all cargo types, including container, breakbulk, and bulk.
North Carolina’s second-largest port is the Port of Morehead City. Situated on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast four miles away from the Atlantic Ocean, the deepwater port was built by the Shepard Point Land Company to relieve pressure at the Port of Wilmington. The Port of Morehead City is a major exporter of phosphate and has a 225,000 ton-capacity and other storage options capable of handling dry-bulk cargo. Morehead City is also the nation’s second-largest entry point for imported rubber. The port also handles breakbulk and bulk cargo. In the 2014 fiscal year, the Port of Morehead City has handled a total of 1,263,015 of cargo.
Maritime jobs at the ports and on the ships they serve pay well and contribute millions of dollars in revenue to North Carolina’s economy. However, the work done by seamen and longshoremen is physically demanding and takes place in a dangerous environment. No matter how well-trained employees are or how strongly regulated the maritime industry is, maritime workers must deal with risk factors that include different types of heavy machinery, strenuous physical labor, and the vagaries of weather and sea conditions.
Due to these circumstances, maritime accidents fall into the category of industrial accidents. Their related injuries are often serious and affect a worker’s ability to earn a living at his profession. Seamen on vessels face the possibility of injuries or even death at any point of a working voyage, even if their ships are moored in port. They live and work in self-propelled constructs full of combustible fuel and equipment like cranes, winches, lifeboat davits, anchor chains, and ship’s ladders and hatchways, not to mention heavy cargo containers and other dangerous items. Whether they’re on cargo ships or passenger vessels, seamen are at risk of being injured in man overboard accidents, falls from heights, fires and explosions, lifeboat evacuation practice accidents, collisions at sea, and vessel sinkings.
Seamen are not the only maritime workers who are at risk of being in an on-the-job accident. Many port workers, including those in the Ports of Wilmington and Morehead City, suffer work-related injuries in such accidents as heavy-object strikes, falling off a wharf, vehicular accidents, tugboat and tow-line incidents, ladder or gangway collapses, exposure to dangerous substances, or slip-trip-and-fall accidents. Non-seaman workers who are most at risk of being injured or killed in maritime accidents include:
- Blast zone harbor workers who handle explosive cargo
- Shipping company truck operators
- Crane operators
- Offshore oil workers
- Offshore natural gas workers
Maritime Workers and Employer Negligence
Although maritime workers know their profession entails risk and that accidents can occur unexpectedly, their employers have an obligation to make sure the workplace is as safe as possible. This obligation includes giving new hires the proper training, promoting and implementing safety procedures, maintaining and repairing facilities, vessels, and equipment, and reducing work-related accidents. Too often, though, maritime workers are pushed to work grueling schedules, sometimes around the clock, to meet an employer’s business needs. In other instances, shipping line owners or stevedoring companies will put off scheduled maintenance on vessels or skimp on training new employees to save time and money. These neglectful decisions cause accidents and injuries that could have been prevented.
If You’ve Been Injured
If you’ve been injured on the job in North Carolina, you may be entitled to damages under maritime law. General maritime law gives seamen the right to collect maintenance and cure payments while recovering from their injuries. Under the Jones Act, qualified seamen also have the right to sue their employers if their injuries were caused because of negligence.
The Longshore Harbor and Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) is a workers’ compensation plan for port and harbor workers who are not covered by the Jones Act. It provides financial compensation that equals two-thirds of an injured worker’s average weekly wages as long as the effects of the injury last. It also provides various payments for either permanent or temporary disability, as well as survivors’ benefits to a worker’s spouse or other dependents in case of death.
For more information, see our articles Jones Act Lawyer and The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.