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Safety agency issues report on vessel fire near Lousiana coast

Oil and water do not mix. Fire and water should certainly not mix. A fire on a seagoing vessel, where there is often no or limited escape for its crew, is one of the most terrifying possibilities faced by the United States’ brave workers at sea.

But that is exactly what happened on an offshore supply vessel in the Gulf of Mexico in October 2018. The ship was moving near Louisiana’s Chandeleur Islands with a crew of four when a fire broke out near the center of the hull. The crew members attempted to fight the fire but were unsuccessful and retreated to the vessel’s stern until the U.S. Coast Guard rescued them.

A brief on the accident issued by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the blaze most likely began with overheated electrical wiring connected to a chest freezer near crew quarters. The vessel’s use of combustible wood paneling and drapery probably fueled its spread and caused it to be a constructive total loss, according to the report.

Fortunately, there were no reported injuries or water pollution related to the accident. But it is rare that a fire of this magnitude would cause only structural damage. If the ship carried more crew or the fire was not identified so early, people may have died.

Victims of maritime accidents may not have the security of a state’s workers’ compensation plan, but the Jones Act and the Longshore & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) are federal laws that provide for similar protections. A lawyer can often help seamen, stevedores, shipbreakers and others claim the help they need when they need it.