As maritime lawyers, we often ask ourselves how many more accidents must happen before safety becomes a priority in all maritime industries. Though we tend to hear more about cruise ship accidents than any other kind of accident at sea, the truth is, people are getting hurt all over the world on cargo vessels and personal water crafts and not everyone is paying attention.
Maritime safety is a universal concept that applies across all industries. Accidents can – and do – happen, but most are the result of negligence. Whether someone was drinking and operating a vessel, failed to maintain a ship’s equipment in working condition, or even if it was something as minute as failing to have a backup set of batteries, the truth will always remain: open waters are dangerous and people can get hurt if safety laws aren’t abided.
Since we are based out of Miami, our law firm deals with boating accidents on a regular basis. We are surrounded by water, so naturally, there are a lot of people enjoying our warm weather and easy access to the ocean daily. Maritime laws in Florida tend to be stricter than in other areas, but when it comes to someone’s safety, there is a point where all laws should be able to protect against harm onboard a vessel.
In India, the debate over maritime safety is in full swing following a deadly boating accident that occurred on January 26, India’s 65th Republic Day. A total of 21 tourists were killed off Viper Island, located near Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and from reports, we’ve gathered that the cause of the boating accident was overcrowding and lack of lifejackets and divers.
The islands’ Lt. Governor issued a statement regarding the tragedy, explaining that, “For the safety of tourists, rules are already there. What we need is proper implementation.”
But what good are rules if they aren’t implemented? And, moreover, why aren’t they being implemented?
Just two months ago, a tourist wrote a letter to the tourism ministry department regarding the lack of maritime safety in the islands. Yet, nothing seems to have been done to address the situation, especially since this latest tragedy is just one of many serious boating accidents that have happened in India over the years. The nation witnesses a large number of fatal maritime accidents a year, but while the death toll keeps rising, maritime laws and the lack of implementation of said laws stay the same.
India’s Parliament passed the Disaster Management Act, 2005, in order to address “the effective management of disasters and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.” The Act also called for the establishment of several authorities which will be in charge of implementing safety rules, including the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), which is in responsible for laying out the groundwork for policies associated with disaster management and a “timely and effective response” to incidents when they occur. Risk assessment and an overall goal to reduce maritime disasters should be at the forefront of the organization’s mission, yet, safety remains at a standstill.
The Act has been criticized for years and has yet to be fully implemented. In July, 2013, legal action was taken by a petitioner who alleged that the failure of the government to implement the provisions specified in the Act endangered countless lives.
Still, nothing has been done.
Just as in the U.S., greater significance should be placed on each and every boating accident that occurs in order to strengthen the laws and their implementation. Every state in the U.S. upholds different maritime laws. There’s no unanimous rule when it comes to boating safety. In fact, not every state mandates the use of lifejackets while on a vessel or personal watercraft which is a huge mistake.
Even in the face of disaster, a lifejacket can ensure that a victim’s body remains afloat. There have been hundreds of incidents involving capsizing boats, explosions, collisions, and other accidents that have caused passengers to fall overboard. Many of these victims were unconscious. If a victim is wearing a lifejacket, whether they are conscious or not, the lifejacket will do its job and keep them afloat until help arrives. In many instances, a lifejacket is the only line of defense against a maritime disaster.
Last month’s boating accident in India shows the dire need to address the laws specified in the Act and ensure their implementation. But it also shows that maritime safety is a concern around the world. Despite the policies that are in place, safety regulations are often ignored, even in the United States.
It seems that only monumental disasters spark a change. Unfortunately, it’s the more minor accidents that keep happening, that keep failing to be addressed and which keep piling up. By the time a huge tragedy unfolds, thousands of lives have already been lost.
Maritime safety is a two way road. Not only do governments need to step up and figure out a way to implement the laws to the fullest degree, but also, it’s up to boaters to protect themselves as well. Anytime a water-based activity is scheduled, patrons should take it upon themselves to bring a lifejacket. Take it from our experienced maritime lawyers, it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Published on February 10, 2014