As the second largest state in the United States and with an extensive coastline,Texas is home to a large and thriving maritime industry that includes ports, shipbuilding facilities, cruise ship operations, commercial fishing, and offshore support for oil and mineral exploitation in the Gulf. From the Port of Orange on Louisiana’s border to Brownsville, the state’s 16 ports create 1.4 million jobs and $82.8 billion in personal income a year. However, the dangerous nature of maritime work, combined with negligence on the part of some employers in Texas, cause many serious accidents and injuries among this huge workforce.
Texas Maritime Accidents
As in many states with large maritime industries, Texas has had its share of accidents involving seamen, longshore and offshore workers. Many of these incidents go unreported by the media and are not widely known. Others, however, are notorious because they are spectacularly disastrous or negatively affect many individuals at once.
Texas City Explosion – April 16-17, 1947: This was the worst maritime accident in Texas history and the fifth worst in U.S. maritime annals. On April 16, 1947, the SS Grandcamp, a French-owned cargo ship which had originally served under the American flag during World War II, exploded in the port of Texas City. The ship was being loaded with a cargo of ammonium nitrate fertilizer when some of the longshoremen smelled smoke aboard. A small fire had broken out in one of the ship’s holds, which also contained small-arms ammunition and other cargo.
Workers attempted to put out the fire, but the blaze spread. The ship was evacuated, but the captain’s last-ditch effort to extinguish the blaze by venting steam into the cargo hold raised the temperature aboard to 850 degrees Fahrenheit. This caused the fertilizer to explode.
The explosion was so powerful that it killed hundreds of people in the area, including port workers, first responders, and curious onlookers. It also destroyed facilities close to where the Grandcamp was docked, including the nearby Monsanto chemical plant. Every window in Texas City broke, and the blast was heard as far away as the Louisiana border 250 miles away.
In addition, the SS High Flyer, which was docked next to the Grandcamp, also caught fire. The ship also carried a load of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, as well as 2,000 tons of sulfur. This mix was volatile, and 15 hours after the first explosion, the High Flyer blew up. Two people were killed, and more damage was done to the already battered port. Although there are no exact figures for the casualties, the Texas City accident killed between 500 and 600 persons and injured several thousand.
The Mega Borg Explosion, June 8, 1990: The Norwegian tanker MV Mega Borg exploded as it transferred some of its cargo of Angolan Palanca petroleum to an Italian tank ship, the Framura. The ships were 57 miles away from the Port of Galveston when the incident occurred. The explosion caused a fire in the Mega Borg’s engine room. The ship burned for eight days and suffered extensive damage, but it didn’t sink. However, a total of 4,200,000 gallons of light crude oil were spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, of the 41 crew members aboard, two were killed, two were declared missing and presumed dead, and 17 were injured. The oil spill also did considerable environmental damage to the area, polluting valuable fishing waters and soiling beaches along the Texas and Louisiana coasts with tar balls.
Compensation for Texas Seamen, Longshore, and Offshore Workers
Maritime professionals work in an environment that involves much risk and arduous physical demands. Even cruise ships designed to carry vacationing passengers in relative luxury can suffer mechanical failures or catch fire at any point of a sea voyage. Naturally, some accidents are unavoidable, but seamen, longshore workers and other marine employees are often injured or killed as a result of negligent employers or unseaworthy ships.
Seamen who are injured or killed on the job are covered by the Jones Act, a federal law which promises compensatory payments to injured maritime workers or family members of those who lose their lives while working. The Jones Act also permits injured seamen to sue their employers or vessel owners if negligence contributed to the accident.
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) is a workers’ compensation plan that covers those maritime workers who are not Jones Act seamen. The LHWCA entitles these workers to compensation for medical expenses, loss of limbs, varying degrees of physical disability, and the costs of medication.
Pursuing claims under either the Jones Act or the LHWCA can often be a complicated matter that requires collecting medical records, gathering evidence that a job-related injury caused a disabling condition, and dealing with a tight deadline before the statute of limitations kicks in. An experienced maritime attorney can help injured seamen or port workers deal with these complexities and get fair compensation for their work-related injuries.