Articles Posted in Ferry Incidents

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APRIL 1, 2016

A Seattle Federal Court Jury has awarded an Alaska Ferry worker and her husband 16 million dollars in total compensatory damages for injuries she suffered when a gangway she was working upon collapsed at the Port of Bellingham.  Shannon Adamson, a Mate aboard an Alaska Ferry, was injured in an 18 foot fall in November of 2012 when a large gangway she was standing on, while lowering the gangway for passengers to board the ferry, suddenly collapsed.  Experts in engineering safety determined that critical safety controls for the gangway had not been installed, allowing potentially lethal slack to develop in the cables used to raise and lower the ramp.  Following a two week trial, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Adamson and her husband Nicholas.

The passenger gangway, which was owned by the Port and being leased by the Alaska Ferry system, had previous problems and was involved in a near collapse in 2008. Following the first gangway failure, engineers working for the Port of Bellingham recommended that a safety “limit switch” be installed, which would have prevented the operation of the controls in such a manner that the pins used to lock the gangway into position could not be removed if cables used to lower and raise the gangway had been previously  slacked.  The Port of Bellingham failed to install the recommended safety limit switch which would have cost just a few dollars to install.

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Why did the ferry TACOMA lose power during a routine run from Seattle to Bainbridge Island last summer?

“We have found the problem, and we have identified a fix for it,” said Lynne Griffith, Assistant Secretary for the state Ferries Division.

A power surge caused by a design flaw destroyed the power cables in the ferry’s circuit breaker control, causing the ship to lose power as it approached Bainbridge Island on July 29, 2014.

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Ferries operate around the world, most of the time successfully enough. Here in the Puget Sound area, millions rely on ferries each year. In fact, according to the Washington Department of Transportation, over 75,000 commuters use the ferry system each work day, and vehicles board ferries around 11 million times per year for work and leisure, making our ferry system the largest in the U.S. and the third largest in the world.

Ferry collisions, allisions, and casualties are rare in Puget Sound, but, unfortunately, such incidents are not so uncommon around the world. The latest is a horrible tragedy involving the lives of hundreds of high school students on a field trip, as well as many other people aboard for the usually safe 13.5 hour journey between Incheon and Jeju, South Korea.

This ro-ro (roll on/roll off) ferry, SEWOL, was built in Japan in 1994, and started her life ferrying passengers there as NAMINOUE MARU. She is 481 feet long, 72 feet abeam, with a maximum speed of 22 knots. In 2012, she was bought by a Korean marine company and refitted with more passenger deck space, with increased her maximum capacity to 956 persons. Different sources cite a car capacity ranging between 90 and 200, in addition to space devoted to semi-trucks and TEU containers. SEWOL passed more than one safety and insurance inspection for the new additions and weight increase, was pronounced seaworthy, and was set on the Incheon-Jeju route.

On April 16, there were 476 people known to be on board SEWOL. According to reports, 339 of these people were high school students from Danwon High School in Ansan, which is not too far from Seoul, along with some of their teachers. The rest of the people were passengers on other business, and crew. About 16 miles from shore off the southern tip of South Korea, shortly before 9:00 a.m. KST, in calm weather, SEWOL made a hard turn and began to list. Minutes later, a loud noise reverberated. Whilst most of the passengers obeyed the captain’s instructions to remain in their quarters, SEWOL listed ever farther to port, eventually to a degree which removed all hope of evacuating those passengers. By the time the captain made the call to abandon ship, about an half-hour after that hard turn, the intercom system no longer functioned. Good Samaritans in the area and arriving rescue workers saved as many people as they could find, as the SEWOL beam listed perpendicular to the sea, trapping students and other passengers inside. SEWOL took over three hours to sink completely into seas where SAR divers report visibility to be mere inches in front of their faces.
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One passenger was airlifted to a hospital in Vancouver with possible head injuries after a British Columbia Ferry, Queen of Nanaimo, carrying 207 passengers, rammed a ferry dock on Mayne Island near Victoria. Five other persons were also injured in Tuesday’s accident. The captain of the ferry capable of carrying up to 192 vehicles apparently was unable to put the vessel in reverse and tried to drop the ferry’s anchor before colliding with the dock. Subsequent investigation found ropes in the wheel of the ferry. The ferry had reportedly run over a crab pot during the ferry trip, and it is speculated that the line in the wheel resulted in other mechanical failure. The British Columbia ferries have had ongoing problems with crab fishermen along the ferry’s route. The ferries frequently encounter crab pots along the ferry route, resulting in lines becoming entangled in the ferry’s wheel. It is unknown whether or not the captain of the Queen of Nanaimo was able to alert the passengers of the impending collision before the accident happened. Investigation into the accident will be ongoing.

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Saturday, the ANDREW J. BARBERI, a Staten Island Ferry, slammed into a docking pier injuring up to 40 passengers. The accident is blamed on mechanical failure, and there is no indication that drug or alcohol was involved in the accident. The vessel was carrying 250 passengers at the time of the accident. The ANDREW J. BARBERI was the ferry that was involved in a 2003 accident that resulted in 11 deaths. Investigation into this recent crash by the National Transportation and Safety Board may take years to complete. Fortunately, the injuries to most of the passengers were thought to be minor; however, a number of passengers were taken to local hospitals.

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A pleasure boat crash near Long Island has left three dead and injured four others. The 40 foot pleasure boat ran aground South of the Hamlet of Wantagh, N.Y. Sea Tow, a company that assists boaters in emergency, contacted authorities following the accident.

The Coast Guard dispatched a rescue boat to the scene. It has been reported that two persons died at the scene and the third person at Nassau University Medical Center. The four other passengers were taken to local hospitals for treatment. Their conditions, as well as the cause of the accident is unknown.

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Three Washington State Ferry workers were awarded a combined verdict of $1.1M for lung damage resulting from cleaning products and lack of instructions from the Washington State Ferries. The three workers, Tammy Brazeau, Alex Johnson and Natette Lewis, were cleaning a restroom with a substance called Hi ‘N Dry as well as bleach without the supervision or direction of a superior. The two substances came into contact, causing an eruption of white chlorine gas that caused respiratory irritation in the three workers. Brazeau, Johnson, and Lewis were all exposed to the gas, resulting in lung damage and respiratory conditions such as dyspnea, asthma, chronic rhinitis, rhinorrhea, pneumonia, allergies and acute bronchitis. Brazeau further claimed to suffer from depression and nightmares because of her injuries.
The three filed a lawsuit against the State of Washington, claiming that the vessel was unseaworthy and the State was negligent by failing to provide adequate instruction or direction in using the chemicals. In a response, the State claimed all safety requirements had been met and the workers were properly warned about the cleaning chemicals. According to the State, the bleach label indicated that it should not be mixed with other chemicals and that the State had conducted chemical hazard training for all employees. The court, however, sided with the plaintiffs, rendering separate judgments for each of the workers. The judgments totaled over $1.1M.
The law office of Beard Stacey Trueb & Jacobsen, LLP has successfully held employers accountable in numerous Jones Act cases, including cases involving the Washington State Ferries. The maritime lawyers at BSTJ, LLP represent injured mariners throughout the nation in claims involving the Jones Act and General Maritime Law. For any questions regarding maritime law or injuries sustained while working aboard a vessel, contact us at 206.282.3100 or visit our website at www.atsealawyer.com.