Onboard Ship Fires A Common Cause Of Crew Member Injury, Death

In a boat surrounded by water, fire may be last on a crew member's list of suspected onboard ship hazards. However, ships are susceptible to fires due to the amount of heavy machinery found in their boiler rooms and other areas. While all crew members should be diligent in preventing fires, the ship's owner is liable for injuries and deaths caused by onboard ship fires.

Common causes of onboard ship fires

All fires require air, fuel and heat to ignite and sustain their flames. Most ships have all three of these fire ingredients in their boiler rooms or other areas with heavy machinery. Boiler rooms are warm areas where fuel is present and gases are in pipes under high pressure. A leaky pipe or fuel reservoir and a discarded cigarette may be all a fire needs to ignite.

Leaky high-pressure pipes, puddles of fuel or oil and exhaust gases all contribute to the risk of an onboard fire. Leaks may be caused by a break-down in clamps or connections between pipes and gauges. These environmental factors, when mixed with human factors like negligence and laziness, create a ripe environment for fires.

Other causes of onboard fires include oily rags and a type of heat-producing bacteria known as thermophilic bacteria. All ship machinery must be maintained, which often requires oil and other lubricants. However, the rags used to apply these lubricants are common fire starters, since oil is highly flammable and can actually self-ignite at high temperatures. Machinists must be diligent in their efforts to clean up after servicing equipment, and other crew members should pitch in and notify superiors when rags present a fire hazard.

Lastly, thermophilic bacteria may cause trash can fires on board ships. This type of bacteria can build up in garbage cans where flammable waste, like oily rags, is mixed with biodegradable waste, like food. As these items break down, the bacteria makes enough heat to cause a fire if the waste is exposed to air, such as when someone opens the can to dispose of something.

Onboard ship fire liability

According to the Jones Act, injured seamen and officers can hold their employers responsible for their injuries if the employer's negligence had any role in the injury. Seamen and officers may collect compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, the value of room and board he or she would have received if still able to work at sea and pain and suffering that arises out of the injury.

To prove his or her case, a seaman's job duties must contribute to the ship's function in some way and his or her employer must be the ship's owner. If the injured party meets these criteria and can show the employer's negligence contributed to the injury, a judge may award compensation.

If you have been injured in an onboard fire or other incident, please contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can help you understand any compensation to which you may be entitled.

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