The Five Most Common Cargo Ship Hazards

The maritime industry is an important source of economic trade and employment all throughout the country – and an unfortunately common source of accidents and injuries.

Cargo ships, a common sight among all of America’s waters from our rivers to our lakes, could be said to be the backbone of this industry as they remain one of the most efficient methods of transporting large amounts of consumer goods to their destinations.

Sadly, cargo ships also bring with them a number of potential hazards and dangers for anyone working aboard these vessels. The cargo itself can often be hazardous, and even if the products being transported are safe the vessel itself and the conditions they encounter can provide the potential for injury and damage along the way.

To make sure everyone involved knows what to look for, here are the five most common hazards encountered aboard cargo ships – and in some cases, what you can do to avoid them.

  • Cargo Shift: Perhaps the most common of all cargo ship hazards, cargo shift occurs when the cargo inside a container or onboard a vessel begins to distribute its weight improperly. A common source of cargo shift is seen in food/agricultural goods like grain, but can also occur when consumer goods are improperly strapped down and have been a common source of injured workers, damaged goods, and even damaged vessels if the cargo is big enough. Proper caution and inspection of all cargo is recommended to prevent the shifting or dislodgement of cargo, even in something like grain where it’s expected to happen.
  • Inclement Weather: You can’t change the weather, but it doesn’t mean you still can’t be careful about how dangerous conditions can affect your voyage. Every year, hundreds of lives and vessels are lost to hurricanes, typhoons, tropical cyclones, and more. These storms can be enough to severely damage or even sink cargo vessels if proper care isn’t taken during transport. Remember to stay in contact with your land base and plot the most careful course possible around inclement weather while in navigation – the time saved isn’t worth the possible risk.
  • Geographic Hazards: Weather comes and goes, but sometimes the ocean itself can present a danger for cargo ships. Geographical hazards include anything on the water that can harm vessels, such as high sandbars, coral reefs, icebergs, and any other area that is tough to navigate. While many advances in boat safety have been made since the tragedy of the Titanic in 1912, special care and precautions must be taken during any voyage through waters known for these hazards, and accidents involving things like sandbars and icebergs continue to plague the maritime industry and claim innocent lives to this day.
  • Structural Damage: It is the ultimate duty of any shipowner to provide a safe place to work wherever the work takes them, but through neglect or damage sometimes the cargo ship itself can become its very own hazard. If cargo is stacked too heavily on a weakened platform, for example, it can cause the platform to break or become unusable. Attention must be paid to both the structural integrity of all platforms and containers used during a voyage, as well as the safety restrictions suggested by the cargo itself (weight limits, transportation recommendations, proper distribution of cargo throughout vessel, etc) to prevent damage.
  • Fire: Last but not least, fire is always something to look out for during cargo voyages. An ever-present danger aboard vessels of all kinds, the risks of fire onboard a cargo ship can go up dramatically depending on the sort of cargo involved. Flammable gases and chemicals can leak out during transport and present a fire hazard, and even dry cargos like sulphur and coal can be subjected to spontaneous heating depending on how they are stored. No matter how little time you may have to prepare or how short your journey may be, extra care needs to be taken at all times with any sort of cargo that can present a fire hazard.

These are but a few of the more common hazards encountered by cargo ships. If you or a loved one have been injured by these or other hazards while working onboard a cargo ship, the Jones Act attorneys of O’Bryan Law can help.