Maritime Matter of the Week

Mourners Gather to Remember 50th Anniversary of Australia’s Worse Maritime Accident


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Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A. is comprised of attorneys that are nationally-recognized industry leaders in the field of maritime and admiralty law. Our team of lawyers has over a century of combined experience, has successfully handled over 3,000 cases, and has recovered over 300 million dollars in damages for our clients.

Life saverThere have been an array of serious and fatal maritime accidents throughout the course of history. Some of these tragic accidents have involved cruise ships while others have involved commercial vessels. Unfortunately, no matter how strict maritime laws regarding safety may be, there are times when even just one small mistake can have drastic consequences.

For the U.S., one of those tragedies is the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. The cruise ship, the largest passenger vessel of its time, crashed into an iceberg on its maiden voyage to New York. Over 1,500 people lost their lives because of several mistakes made by the ship’s captain, crew and engineers. Among the mistakes made was the speed at which the ship was moving at. This made it impossible to successfully carry out the last minute maneuver to avoid the iceberg. The ship was also severely lacking in lifeboats. Because the ship was thought to be ‘unsinkable,’ only 20 lifeboats were on the ship, each with a capacity to carry 65 people. With over 3,339 passengers and crew onboard, that means only 1,300 would have been able to make it off the ship.

It’s been over 100 years since the Titanic sank, and since then, cruise lines and other maritime vessel authorities have taken precautions to avoid such a tragedy. Yet, even in this day and age, when technology is more than adequately capable of preventing serious accidents, hundreds of people are hurt or killed on the high seas each year.

In Australia, residents are getting ready to pay their respects as the anniversary of the nation’s worst maritime accident approaches. It’s been nearly 50 years since the HMAS Voyager, a Royal Australian Navy (RAN) destroyer, was split in two after crashing into the HMAS Melbourne during a training exercise. A total of 82 people of the 314 onboard were killed on the evening of February 10, 1964, brining to light a number of speculations as to whether the accident was truly an accident or the result of the crew’s negligence.

On the night of the accident, the Melbourne changed its course and signaled the Voyager to do the same. The Melbourne was supposed to have passed ahead of the Voyager, cross its stern then take position on its starboard quarter, but something went terribly wrong. As the 20,000-ton carrier vessel was completing it’s maneuver, the Voyager suddenly turned back across its bows and, unable to avoid a collision, was split in half upon impact, then capsized and sank

The maritime accident marks the largest loss of Australian military personnel during peacetime, but investigations into the accident revealed several mistakes. Two royal commissions were found to have inadequately accounted for the accident. Allegations also surfaced that the Voyager’s captain was an alcoholic and an amphetamine user. The crash was initially blamed on poor visibility and a mixed signals, but as far as maritime conditions go, seas were smooth and skies were clear.

Authorities found that the Voyager was primarily at fault for the crash after failing to maintain an active lookout for the other vessel and for failure to monitor the Melbourne’s location. However, the Melbourne’s bridge crew was also found to have contributed to the crash for failing to alert the Voyager and failing to take measures to avoid the crash. The Voyager’s captain was also found to have been unfit for command.

Sadly, this maritime accident, like many others, could have been entirely avoided. To this day, negligence in properly training crew members, ensuring their ability to perform tasks, and failing to abide by proper maritime safety principles have all contributed to the  loss of countless lives at sea.

As the anniversary of the accident approaches, survivors and their loved ones will be gathering at the site of the wreck and will hold a memorial ceremony at sunset. Sadly, the tragedy’s effects can still be felt to this day. Many of the ship’s crew suffered post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the accident and waited decades to be compensated. It wasn’t until 2009 that the last of the PTSD seaman’s claims were settled.

Though this accident happened at a time when it was much more difficult to obtain compensation for a maritime accident, similar incidents occur to this day. Our attorneys here at Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A. fight daily to help victims obtain compensation for accidents that have occurred several years ago – including the Concordia capsizing accident in January, 2012.

It’s important to contact an experienced maritime lawyer immediately following an accident to expedite the process of filing a claim. If negligence is found to be at the root of the incident, victims may be entitled to damages for their pain and suffering, which a skilled attorney can secure.

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