On Saturday morning, December 8th, at roughly 10:30AM EST, normal operation of Ocean Pearl — a commercial fishing vessel — was disrupted due to an unexpected electrical fire that forced crew members to abandon ship and board a life raft. There were four crew members in total. Before leaving Ocean Pearl behind, they activated the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB).
According to reports, once crew members had been safely moved to the life raft, handheld radio equipment was used to contact Coast Guard authorities at the Delaware Bay command center to request immediate assistance. Coast Guard authorities sent out three boats to assist the stranded crew members: two emergency response boats and a patrol boat.
The rescue was a complete success. No injuries were reported and the four Ocean Pearl crew members were safely brought to shore. We are pleased to learn that everyone is safe, and certainly, crew members appear to have been well-equipped and well-prepared to connect with emergency personnel in the event of a catastrophic accident.
There are still open questions regarding the inciting incident, however. It is not clear how or why the electrical fire started. It may have been caused by an equipment defect and poor vessel maintenance. Further, the fire need not necessarily have led to an “abandon ship” scenario. If crew members had discovered the fire sooner, and if they had access to sufficient fire suppression tools, then it’s possible that they could have avoided abandoning the ship altogether.
Though all crew members in the present case ultimately ended up safe and unharmed, it’s possible that the out-of-control fire, a rushed evacuation, and poor weather conditions could have led to missing or injured crew members.
Boat Operators Must Provide Adequate Safety and Emergency Response Equipment
Boat operators — commercial and recreational — must ensure that all passengers and crew members are provided adequate safety equipment (i.e., life vests, life boats, etc.) in the event of a catastrophic accident that leads to an abandonment of the vessel itself.
In the present case, crew members of Ocean Pearl were wearing cold-water survival gear and life vests when they were rescued, and further, had access to emergency provisions and handheld radios that allowed them to communicate directly with Coast Guard watchstanders (and thereby request and coordinate their rescue).
Coast Guard commanding officer David Umberger noted that, “this case might not have had such a good outcome if the captain and crew of the Ocean Pearl hadn’t been prepared for an emergency. Keeping a properly-registered EPIRB, well-maintained cold water survival gear and functioning communications equipment on board your vessel will save your life.” He also pointed out that the winter marine environment is rougher and colder, making such provisions that much more important.
Equipping crew members with the tools necessary to safely evacuate and request a rescue will not shield the boat operator from liability if the accident was caused by their negligence. In the present case, the fact that crew members were forced to abandon ship is indicative that the fire had gotten “out of control” before they could suppress the blaze. If the owner/operator of Ocean Pearl failed to provide adequate fire suppression equipment (and training) for crew to fight the electrical fire, then they could have been held liable in the event that a crew member was injured or went missing.
We Can Help
If you’ve been injured in a maritime-related accident — whether you are a seamen or a recreational passenger — then you may have a right to sue and recover damages as compensation for the harm caused.
Here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A., our team of attorneys has over 100 years of combined experience advocating on behalf of those who have suffered injuries in a wide range of maritime accidents, including those that involve commercial boating accidents and subsequent rescue operations.
We have litigated thousands of claims since our founding, and have gained deep insight into what works — and what doesn’t — in the context of maritime and admiralty law disputes. Our thorough and client-centered approach to maritime litigation has brought us a great deal of success. Over the years, we have helped our clients secure over $200 million in compensation.
Contact Lipcon today to speak to one of our experienced maritime lawyers about your injury claims.