Located at the confluence of the Hudson and East Rivers, the Port of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) is the East Coast’s busiest maritime port. In terms of tonnage handled, it is the third largest in the United States, rivaled only by Los Angeles and Long Beach, California. PANYNJ provides, directly or indirectly, more than 279,200 jobs to the New York-New Jersey area and generates over $5 billion in tax revenue to local and state government each year. Many of these jobs are maritime-related, and each year many seamen or port employee are injured in job-related accidents. Tragically, negligence by employers or unseaworthy vessels are contributing factors in many of these injury-causing incidents.
Maritime Accidents in the PANYNJ Area
The port’s expanse, which encompasses a large part of the New York-Newark metro area, and its heavy ship traffic makes PANYNJ one of the world’s largest ports. In an average year, over 4,000 ships enter the harbor, bringing in thousands of passengers and millions of tons of cargo to the bi-state area. In addition, the waters around New York City are teeming with ferries, fishing boats, and recreational boats of all types and sizes.
All of this activity is beneficial to the local, state, and national economies, but maritime work is difficult and dangerous. Seamen employed on a ship at sea live and work in an environment filled with potential dangers. A broken fuel line can set off a fire or leave a ship stranded adrift without power. An inattentive officer can miss a blip on a radar screen and inadvertently cause a collision with another ship. A deckhand may slip on a oil-slick deck which should have been mopped and break a leg as a result. The history of PANYNJ is full of tragic incidents that resulted in injuries and loss of lives and property.
- In June of 1904, the General Slocum, a steamboat carrying 1,331 on the East River, caught fire, killing 1,021 persons. Until the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, this was the deadliest tragedy in New York history.
- In April of 2012, the cruise ship Norwegian Star collided with a pier where the museum ship USS Intrepid is docked in Manhattan. Shortly before a scheduled flyover by a 747 carrying the retired test space shuttle Enterprise, the 965-foot cruise ship ran into heavy winds and choppy seas, which made it difficult for its navigator to dock. On the fourth attempt, the ship operator tried to dock by reversing course. The maneuver failed and the Norwegian Star grazed the pier, incurring thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to the ship.
- In 2013, the Staten Island ferry experienced several crashes. the worst one taking place on January 9. On that occasion, 70 persons were injured when the Seastreak-owned vessel hit a dock in Manhattan at a speed of 14 knots. The catamaran Seastreak Wall Street was arriving from the other side of New York Bay when it crashed at 8:45 AM. 70 passengers and crew were injured. 11 of the injuries were listed as serious, including a head injury that resulted from a stairway fall.
Legal Resources for Injured Seamen
Keep in mind that general maritime laws were created in order to protect seamen and offer compensation and benefits should injuries occur. Maintenance and cure benefits are available regardless of how the accident happened. Yet, if an accident was caused by the negligence of another party, such as a vessel owner or co-workers, employers are typically liable for damages under the Jones Act.
The Longshore Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) protects maritime workers who may not necessarily work on navigable waters, such as ship repairmen and harbor construction workers. If you’ve been injured and need assistance, it’s important to seek legal help from an experienced maritime attorney before signing any paperwork or returning to work as your benefits may be greatly diminished without the properly legal advice. For more information on rights and compensation, see our article Maritime Rights and Compensation.