Deadline to File Claims Related to El Faro Sinking Set
A federal judge for the Middle District of Florida has ordered all claims related to El Faro sinking to be filed with that court by December 21, 2015. Failure to comply with the strict deadline may result in a claim being defaulted or barred.
Sylvester C. Crawford, Jr., a 40 year old father from Lawrenceville, Georgia, was among the 33 crewmembers that perished aboard the 40-year-old cargo ship. The Seafarers International Union (SIU) member was working his first hitch aboard the vessel in its final voyage. Crawford’s family recently retained the experienced maritime attorneys of Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris, LLP (SMSH) to represent them against Tote Maritime for their loss.
“We are honored to represent the Crawford family as they seek justice for their beloved Sylvester,” said Matthew D. Shaffer, a maritime attorney and partner of SMSH.
With the families of the crewmembers still mourning the unexpected passing of their loved ones, the legal battle over the sinking of El Faro has started.
The vessel went missing on its final voyage to Puerto Rice when it sailed into the path of Hurricane Joaquin and sunk east of the Bahamas. Tote Maritime, the owner of the ship and employer of its crew, filed a complaint to limit its liability for the losses stemming from this disaster. Tote Maritime seeks to cap its liability at no more than approximately $15 million dollars, a value based on the ship’s tonnage. The court order requires all claims for compensation related to the El Faro disaster to be filed by December 21, 2015.
“It is shameful that Tote Maritime has initiated litigation in a venue far from their home seeking to limit its responsibility to these families to pennies on the dollar, while at the same time seeking the full measure of reimbursement for the loss of its ship,” said Shaffer. “Such actions are doomed for failure but will succeed in costing the survivors time and money as they look for answers in this tragedy.”
SMSH has represented individuals like the Crawford family for more than 50 years across the United States. Combined, its attorneys have more than 100 years of trial experience in holding employers and shipowners responsible for serious maritime accidents and deaths.
Family members affected by the El Faro tragedy are strongly advised to contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss their legal rights in light of the court’s upcoming deadline to file claims. If you or a loved one was injured in a maritime or offshore accident, call 1-800-282-2122 today to speak to an attorney at SMSH for a free, confidential consultation. Legal assistance is available both in English and Spanish (Español).
Tug and Barge Partially Sank in Houston Ship Channel
As of 1 p.m. Monday, the Houston Ship Channel has remained closed to ships because two vessels are partially submerged after an incident. The U.S. Coast Guard has not reported any injuries.
A 25-foot harbor tug, Annie Moon, and 200-foot attached barge sank where they were moored just south of Galena Park about 5:00 a.m., according to the Coast Guard.
“The assessment team determined that approximately 20 gallons of diesel fuel leaked from the tug, which was carrying about 300 gallons,” the Coast Guard told KHOU 11 News. “The area has been boomed off to contain and recover any additional spill while the vessels are being recovered.”
Big John, the Big John Marine cargo crane, was expected to start lifting the sunken vessels at 1:00 p.m. The Coast Guard said it will work with crews to ensure the ship channel is clear prior to reopening it to traffic.
Questions Remain Over Captain’s ‘Sound Plan’ to Sail El Faro Around Hurricane Joaquin
Given the weather information that was available before El Faro’s last voyage, many have questioned why the ship’s Captain would choose to brave what was then tropical storm Joaquin. On September 30, when El Faro left Florida en route to Puerto Rico, El Faro’s captain, Michael Davidson, decided to forge ahead on a path that would take him within 200 miles of the tropical storm that was brewing nearby.
Tote Maritime, the company that operated El Faro, reported that Davidson developed a “sound plan” that would enable him to sail safely outside of the storm’s path. If everything went according to the captain’s plan, some industry experts agree that El Faro could have outran the storm.
The weather conditions, however, weren’t the only factor Davidson needed to consider in the charted course. His strategy failed when the ship’s main propulsion stopped working as El Faro and its 33 crewmembers were in the path of what strengthened to become a category 4 hurricane. El Faro sent its last distress call on October 1 and lost contact near the Bahamas. Marine positioning data shows that the ship was battling 120 mph winds and more than 30 foot waves shortly before it succumbed to the forces of Hurricane Joaquin. It’s believed that all 33 crewmembers onboard, including 28 Americans, lost their lives in the disaster.
As investigations into El Faro’s sinking are ongoing, additional information will reveal whether Davidson made the right decision under the circumstances. In the maritime industry, the responsibility falls on a ship’s captain to use all information available to make a decision amidst the perils of the sea. A ship’s captain must account for the unexpected and the wrong decision puts the lives of all crewmembers at risk. In addition to responding to dangerous weather conditions, a ship’s captain also may encounter malfunctioning equipment and even the threat of pirates abroad.
Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris, LLP, has represented injured crewmembers for more than 50 years, and many cases have called into question the decision making of a ship’s captain. In 2009, we were retained to represent some crewmembers aboard the M/V Maersk Alabama, a container ship that was hijacked by pirates near Somalia. With so many lives at stake, captains must be held accountable for their decisions as the safety of maritime workers depends on it.
New Details Emerge on the Condition of El Faro Before its Last Voyage
The latest information suggests that El Faro, a 40-year-old cargo ship, sunk near the Bahamas on its last voyage to Puerto Rico. As reported by CNN, former crewmembers of El Faro previously expressed concerns that the ship was not fit to sail through a major storm in the region. The crewmembers reported that the ship had problems taking on water and showed signs of other structural problems. They also reported to CNN that El Faro was covered in rust, had holes on the deck, and that the cook’s room leaked water.
El Faro was classed by the American Bureau of Shipping and was required to undergo routine inspections by the United States Coast Guard. Tote Maritime, the company that operated El Faro, insists that El Faro met all applicable standards and certifications.
Allegations of unseaworthiness are a common feature of maritime injury claims. Unseaworthiness does not necessarily mean that a ship cannot sail or be navigated. In the context of maritime injury claims, a ship, such as El Faro, is unseaworthy if the ship, or any of its parts or equipment, is not reasonably fit for its intended purpose. Serious leaks or holes in the deck are just some of the many unsafe conditions that may render a ship unseaworthy. Additional investigation into the condition of El Faro is necessary to determine if the ship was unseaworthy for its last voyage and if its condition caused, or contributed to, the fate of its crewmembers.
All crewmembers deserve a safe working environment. When crewmembers embark on a voyage, they are at the mercy of their vessel and the weather conditions they encounter aboard. Attorneys at Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris, LLP have represented hundreds of seamen that have been injured on vessels. In many of these cases, the crewmember’s injuries or fatalities have been attributed to unseaworthy conditions on the ship, such as faulty equipment or inadequate safety gear.
U.S. Coast Guard Believes the Missing El Faro Cargo Ship Sank
The U.S. Coast Guard announced Monday morning they believe the missing U.S.-flagged El Faro container ship likely sank. The search for the 33 people, 28 Americans and four Polish nationals aboard, continues, Coast Guard officials said.
Contact with the 790-foot ship was lost Thursday as the vessel sailed into the tumultuous path of Category 4 Hurricane Joaquin. At that time, the ship had lost propulsion and was taking on water, but the crew was reportedly “pumping it successfully,” officials with TOTE Maritime said.
El Faro, a vessel of the TOTE Maritime fleet serving in the Jones Act Puerto Rice trade, departed Tuesday from Jacksonville, Florida headed toward Puerto Rico.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the brave crewmembers during this difficult time, “ said Matthew Shaffer, Maritime Attorney and a managing partner of Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris (SMSH).
In his experience, Shaffer said ship-owners will often “race to the courthouse” in an attempt to limit its liability for disasters similar to these. It is the duty of the ship-owner, however, to avoid severe weather and protect the crew, he said.
The Maritime Attorneys at SMSH have represented ocean-going seaman and their families in numerous maritime disasters occurring worldwide in the last six decades. SMSH attorneys have been involved in the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the Maersk Alabama piracy case and, recently, represented the family of a young man lost in a dredge sinking. They have helped thousands of clients across the nation, including Shaffer settling the largest single Jones Act lawsuit on record.
About Shaffer & Harris
The Maritime injury attorneys at Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris have spent decades helping victims of all types of accidents. Their attorneys have more than 100 years of combined trial experience in maritime and industrial accidents.
If you are a seaman, offshore worker, or port worker who was injured as a result of negligence, call 800-282-2122 today to schedule a free, confidential consultation with a maritime injury attorney at SMSH. Legal assistance is available both in English and Spanish (Español).
Heat-Related Illness and Maritime Workers
Maritime and offshore workers are exposed to many severe weather conditions. During the hottest months of the year, these workers are at high risk of heat-related illness.
Our maritime and offshore injury lawyers want workers and employers to know how to recognize the signs of heat illnesses and what to do if someone is suffering from these symptoms.
Someone showing the following symptoms may be suffering from heat exhaustion:
- Excessive sweating
- Severe thirst
- Rapid breathing and/or pulse
- Blurred vision
- Muscle cramps
If a worker exhibits any of these symptoms, immediately move him or her to a shaded area. A worker showing heat exhaustion symptoms should not be left alone. Heavy clothing should be removed. The worker should be given a cup of cool water to drink every 15 minutes. Fan the worker, spray him or her with cool water, and apply a wet cloth to the skin.
If symptoms do not improve within a few minutes, call 9-1-1. Any worker suffering from heat exhaustion should not return to work for the rest of the day.
If a worker exhibits the following symptoms, he or she may be suffering from heat stroke:
- Not sweating
- Skin is hot, red and/or dry
- Pupils are small “pinpoints”
These signs should be treated as a medical emergency and 9-1-1 should be called right away. Move the worker to a cooler, shaded area. He or she should lay down and be fanned/sprayed with cool water. Place ice packs under the armpits and around the groin. Someone should remain with a person with heat stroke symptoms until paramedics arrive on the scene.
Prevent Heat-related Illness
In order to avoid the heat-related illnesses above, it’s important that both employers and employees understand what precautions to take.
- Drink plenty of water or electrolyte drinks, even when you’re not feeling thirsty
- Hold off on the most intensive work until cooler parts of the day, such as first thing in the morning or late in the evening
- Wear clothing that is light-weight and fits loosely
- Wear a hat
- Avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine before and during working hours
- Pace yourself, and work on building up a tolerance to working in hot conditions
- If you start to feel any of the symptoms above, immediately stop and tell your supervisor.
Workers who suffer from serious heat-related illness on a vessel, offshore rig, or in a port can contact the maritime injury attorneys at Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris for assistance and information about your legal rights.
Another Vessel Collision In Houston Ship Channel
July brought another collision in the Houston Ship Channel. A crash between 2 barges ignited a fire on one that burned for 4 hours and shut down the Intracoastal Waterway for several hours.
On July 20 at about 1:20 a.m., Kirby Inland Marine-owned tugboat Captain Shorty C was pushing 2 barges filled with cumene east in the channel. Enterprise Marine Services-owned tugboat Jackie was pushing two barges loaded with naphtha and heading west. Cumene is an additive for gasoline, and naphtha is a flammable petroleum product used in gasoline and as a solvent.
As the ships were crossing the channel at the intersection of the Intracoastal Waterway, the Captain Shorty C lost power and one of its barges struck a barge being pushed by the Jackie.
No injuries were immediately reported.
A fire broke out on the Jackie-towed barge, but officials did not know whether diesel fuel or the naphtha the vessel was carrying was burning. The fire lasted until about 5:20 a.m. A Port of Houston fireboat and a T&T Marine Salvage vessel put out the blaze, Coast Guard officials said.
Three of the four barges were damaged in the incident.
There have been at least four collisions in the Houston Ship Channel this year alone. As the second busiest U.S. waterway, as many as 800 vessels use the channel in a day.
If you have been injured in a vessel collision, the maritime attorneys of Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris can help you recover financial compensation for the damages caused.
Bridge Worker Dies From Fall After Tow Boat Hits Bridge
A worker on the Eads Bridge in St. Louis died recently when the structure was hit by a tow boat pushing barges.
The bridge worker fell from scaffolding where he was sandblasting when the collision occurred and landed on the tow boat’s platform. The 24-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the worker was employed by Thomas Industrial Coatings, based in Mississippi.
In 2006, three workers for Thomas Industrial Coatings were killed in separate scaffolding accidents, according to reports from OSHA.
Scaffolding is common in the construction and maritime industries, particularly in shipyards where workers use these temporary structures while working on vessels. While injured construction workers may be protected by workers compensation or general personal injury laws, and injured shipyard workersmay be entitled to compensation under federal maritime laws.
If you are a worker who was injured on scaffolding, contact Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris today to get help protecting your legal rights.
Barge Collision In Houston Ship Channel Sparks Vessel Fire
A collision between two barges in the Houston Ship Channel early Monday morning ignited a fire on one of the vessels and closed the Intracoastal Waterway until the afternoon.
A Kirby Inland Marine-owned tugboat, the Captain Shorty C, was heading eastbound pushing two barges filled with the gasoline additive cumene. The tugboat Jackie, an Enterprise Marine Services vessel, was heading westbound pushing two barges carrying approximately 1 million gallons each of the highly flammable petroleum product naphtha.
Around 1:20 a.m. as the boats were crossing the intersection of the channel and the Intracoastal Waterway at Bolivar Peninsula, the Captain Shorty C lost power. One of its barges collided with a barge being pushed by the Jackie. The crash sparked a fire aboard the ship hauling naphtha that lasted four hours. It was finally extinguished about 5:25 AM by a Port of Houston fireboat and a T&T Marine Salvage vessel.
U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Andy Kendrick said it was not yet known whether diesel fuel or the naphtha cargo was burning in the fire.
The Intracoastal Waterway was shut down from mile marker 348 to the ship channel until afternoon. According to a spokesman from the Texas General Land Office, it was unlikely that the naphtha would affect the waterway because it evaporates very quickly. Air quality monitoring did not show any risk to the public.
This has been at least the fourth vessel collision this year in the Houston Ship Channel. The waterway is one of the most travelled in the U.S., seeing up to 800 vessels a day at times. In March of last year, a bulk carrier struck a barge owned by Kirby Inland Marine in the channel near the Texas City Dike, causing a spill of around 168,000 gallons of fuel into the water.
Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris, LLP, maritime lawyers, have successfully litigated injury claims against many of the largest maritime companies. If you were hurt in a vessel collision, contact us today for assistance.
Search Ends For Crewmember Missing After Tugboat Sinks In Mississippi River
One crewmember was missing after a tugboat capsized and sank Saturday morning on the Mississippi River. The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search for the worker over the weekend after determining that he was onboard the vessel when it sank.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the missing crewmember’s family and friends,” said Cmndr. Kelly Denning of the United States Coast Guard. “We appreciate all the support provided by our state, local and industry partners in the search effort … Based on several eye witness accounts, however, we have determined that the missing crewmember was onboard the vessel when it sank. Pending further developments, we have decided to suspend the active search.”
Four other crewmembers escaped the ship and were rescued by a nearby good Samaritan. The cause of the tugboat’s sinking is being investigated.
Jones Act Seaman Status
Many tugboat workers qualify as seamen under the Jones Act, a federal maritime law. Jones Act seamen are eligible for certain protections, such as maintenance and cure compensation, negligence claims, and more.
To qualify as a seaman, a worker must meet these standards:
- Worker is assigned to a vessel and spends at least 30% of employment time on that vessel.
- Vessel must be in navigation.
- Worker contributes to vessel’s navigation or function.
If a seaman is killed while working less than 3 nautical miles from shore, his surviving family members — most often spouse or minor children — may be entitled to compensation for damages such as loss of financial support, funeral expenses and more.
It’s not uncommon for an employer to deny a Jones Act claim based on seaman status. When this happens, an experienced Jones Act attorney from Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris can help. Contact us today for a free consultation.