In every occupation, employers must adhere to safety regulations, and maritime work is no exception. When shipowners fail to keep their vessels seaworthy, they may be liable for employee injuries under the Jones Act.
Maintaining a seaworthy ship requires diligence in many areas.
Maintaining equipment and parts
On a seaworthy vessel, all parts and equipment must be “reasonably fit” for their purpose. The owner must provide safety equipment, first aid supplies and lifeboats and ensure that they are in good condition.
This does not mean that all parts of the ship must be brand new or flawless; however, they must stand up to normal use. If parts or equipment fail under normal work conditions, a court may find that the vessel is unseaworthy and hold the owner liable for negligence.
Providing safe food and water
Spoiled food and contaminated drinking water can cause devastating illness for a ship’s crew. Employers must provide safe food storage and a clean water supply. If there are toxic chemicals aboard the ship, proper storage and handling is essential to prevent contamination.
Hiring and training crew
The definition of seaworthiness goes beyond the vessel itself. Maritime employers must hire an appropriate number of qualified crew members and provide proper training. Enforcing strict safety regulations is critical to preventing injuries and avoiding liability. Violent crew members, poor training and understaffing are all potential reasons for a court to deem a ship unseaworthy.
Maritime work carries many risks. Shipowners have a duty to reduce the risk of injuries by keeping their vessels fit for use.