As a major West Coast port city, Oakland has the busiest maritime facility in both the San Francisco Bay area and the whole northern California region. The Port of Oakland takes up 19 miles of the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay, and 656 acres of that area are reserved for maritime activities. The port provides 200,000 of jobs to maritime workers in the area; however, many of them have been seriously injured or killed on the job as a result of negligence on the part of their employers.
Port of Oakland and Maritime Accidents
The Port of Oakland is primarily a container-dominated maritime facility. In 1962, Oakland was one of the first major ports in the United States to adopt the new intermodal container method of transporting goods. Presently, it is the fifth busiest container port in the country, topped only by the ports of Long Beach, Los Angeles, Newark, and Savannah. It handles an annual container volume of 2.24 million twenty-foot-equivalent units (TEUs). More than 1500 ships pass through the port in an average year.
Because many of the 200,000 maritime workers employed in the Oakland area do their jobs on huge container ships or on the terminals where the ships are loaded or off-loaded, job-related injuries and even deaths occur at the port. Seamen, longshore and harbor workers toil in an environment where a single misstep can be fatal, considering the sheer amount of heavy containers, moving equipment, and dangerous substances that are present aboard ships or on shore. A fully loaded TEU container, for example, weighs between 50,000 to 61,000 lbs. If a TEU falls on a stevedore, the result can be fatal.
On November 13, 2013, a seaman who was operating a crane at the port was killed when he fell and hit the ground at the dock of Schnitzer Metals Industries, a company which recycles metals. According to local media reports, the maritime worker was the Polish chief engineer of a Portuguese freighter, the Albert Oldendorff. Police were called to the scene but the man died upon impact. The Coast Guard launched an investigation to determine if the accident was an industrial incident.
Common Maritime Accidents and Injuries
As noted earlier, the Port of Oakland’s high volume of ship and container traffic lends itself to frequent maritime accidents, many of which are caused by employer neglect of safety procedures, maintenance of equipment, and a vessel’s state of seaworthiness. Container ships are huge vessels, with decks and superstructure that can rise high above ground level, on top of which lie tall stacks of TEUs. Ships also have many ladders, stair wells, and hatches that can cause injuries if they are not in well-lit areas or if they are not properly maintained and secure.
In addition, all modern container and other cargo vessels run on fuel oil or diesel engines for propulsion, and often they carry flammable or toxic materials as cargo. Consequently, the most common accidents and injuries that affect seamen and port workers are:
- Slips, trips, and falls
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Crushing injuries
- Crane and winch accidents
- Exposure to Benzene and other toxic chemicals
- Exposure to asbestos
- Dental trauma
- Cuts and lacerations
- Ship fires
- Man overboard accidents
- Amputated limbs
- Back, neck, and spinal injuries
- Lifeboat drill accidents
- Burns and smoke inhalation
- Heavy object impacts (usually from above)
- Tugboat accidents
- Barge accidents
- Drownings or near-drownings
Compensation For Injured Maritime Workers
Maritime workers who are injured while on the job are protected by several federal laws that are specifically tailored to provide seamen, longshore and harbor workers, and other offshore employees compensation for their job-related illnesses or injuries. The Merchant Marine Act, better known as the Jones Act, allows seamen to make claims against their employers if they are hurt or disabled as a result of negligence on the part of vessel owners, the captain, or fellow crewmen.
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), also known as the Longshore Act, is a compensation plan that provides coverage to longshoremen, harbor workers, and many other employees who work in ports such as Oakland’s.
Each of these laws works differently and offer specific benefits, but their intent is to provide some measure of legal and financial compensation for injured maritime workers. The Jones and Longshore Acts also involve complicated paperwork and legal matters, as well a time -sensitive statute of limitations. An experienced maritime attorney with knowledge of admiralty law is needed to assist a maritime employee in filing a Jones or Longshore Act claim.