Every year there are numerous maritime accidents in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, and other waters around the world. Unfortunately, 2021 was no exception. There were dozens of serious and fatal accidents last year. While some of these accidents made national or international headlines, most are known only to those who were involved or who lost loved ones too soon.
While Some Maritime Accidents Received Media Coverage in 2021, Most Did Not
The most widely-reported maritime accident of 2021 was also one of the most widely-reported maritime accidents of all time. This was the grounding of the M/V Ever Given in the Suez Canal in March 2021. The M/V Ever Given, a 400 meter long, 20,000 TEU cargo ship, blocked traffic through the Suez Canal for six days while tug boats, dredges and other vessels worked feverishly to dislodge it from the canal’s shore. The grounding of the M/V Ever Given caused estimated economic losses of $400 million per hour—putting it at the top of the list of the most expensive maritime accidents in history.
While the unprecedented economic losses caused by the M/V Ever Given’s grounding received worldwide media coverage, what was not nearly as widely reported was the fact that someone died during the operation to free the stricken vessel. Without much fanfare or detail, the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) reported “the sinking of one of SCA marine units during the salvage operations, resulting in the death of one of the participants.”
Sadly, this is not uncommon. Onshore, nearshore, and offshore workers suffer life-altering and life-threatening accidents in maritime accidents every single day. While some of these accidents involve vessels that capsize or strike the ground, most of them involve accidents onboard. As a result, while major accidents like the M/V Ever Given receive the most press coverage, maritime accidents caused by rough seas, equipment failures, and safety violations were far more prevalent in 2021.
Maritime Accidents That Resulted in Severe or Fatal Injuries in 2021
The following are examples of maritime accidents in 2021 that resulted in severe or fatal injuries. This list is not exhaustive, and it includes only accidents that were reported. Many vessel owners, shipping companies, and other businesses do not report accidents involving their employees despite reporting requirements. As a result, the total number of serious and fatal maritime accidents in 2021 remains unknown.
M/V Arvin Splits in Two
In January 2021, the M/V Arvin, a 114-meter cargo ship flying a Palau flag, left the country of Georgia en route to Bulgaria carrying saltpetre (a chemical compound used for food preservation and color retention) in its cargo hold. The M/V Arvin encountered strong winds off the coast of Turkey that caused swells of up to six meters (almost 20 feet). The force of the swell snapped the 47-year-old vessel in half, as shown in a video that has been viewed on YouTube more than 14 million times.
After breaking in half, the M/V Arvin reportedly sank in just five minutes. Four crew members died, three of whom remained missing after a search conducted in near-freezing waters.
Notably, the M/V Arvin was reportedly a renamed Volgo-Bart vessel constructed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s for “peaceful river or summer sea navigation.” Reports indicate that at least eight of these vessels have sunk in the past 20 years. In another recent example, an inspection conducted just before a Volgo-Bart vessel’s last voyage found multiple safety issues, including hull corrosion.
Lifeboat Sinks in the Gulf of Mexico, 13 Crew Members Lost
In April 2021, a lifeboat reportedly sank in the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in the death of 13 of the 19 crew members onboard. The fatal accident occurred approximately seven miles from Port Fourchon, Louisiana. Offshore Engineer reports that the lifeboat, Seacor Power, “capsized in heavy winds and seas.” An investigation conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board focused on possible factors including “weather, training, the Seacor Power’s material condition, owner and operator organizational structures and culture, [and] the regulatory compliance record of the vessel,” among others.
Barge Sinks During Cyclone Tauktae
In May 2021, an accommodation barge, Papaa 305, located in the Heera oilfield, sank under extremely hazardous sea conditions caused by Cyclone Tauktae. Reports indicate that the barge’s moorings snapped and that it was drifting when it sank. Tragically, Maritime Zone reports that “[n]o actions were taken by representatives of Papaa Shipping and Afcons companies [the companies responsible for the operation], so the barge sank leaving 22 people dead and 65 still missing.”
The sinking of the Papaa 305 is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center forecasters issued a tropical cyclone warning and forecast Cyclone Tauktae’s path four days before the fatal accident. Yet, the Papaa 305 and its crew were not moved out of harm’s way. Second, as noted in the quote above, the companies responsible for the vessel reportedly did nothing to save those onboard. This is true despite the fact that they received messages from the Master and Chief Engineer asking for emergency assistance.
Numerous Maritime Accidents Involving U.S. and Foreign Vessels Reported After Hurricane Ida
In August 2021, Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 storm. According to various reports, it was the second most damaging storm to make landfall in the state’s history, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In addition to causing widespread damage and loss of life on land, Hurricane Ida was also responsible for several maritime accidents involving U.S. and foreign vessels in the Gulf of Mexico. According to gCaptain, the U.S. Coast Guard investigated close to 350 accidents linked to the storm. Fortunately, not all of these accidents involved severe or fatal injuries.
Surveyor Suffers Fatal Fall While Descending from Carrier
As we mentioned above, not all tragic maritime accidents involve major shipwrecks and mass casualties. For example, in December 2021, a surveyor reportedly suffered a fatal fall on the job. According to FleetMon, the surveyor had completed his work onboard a bulk carrier ship and was descending to the lighter ship on which he had traveled to the carrier when he slipped and fell into the water. FleetMon reports that the surveyor “was rescued sometime later and transported to hospital, but declared dead.”
There is no indication that rough seas or any other external factors played a role in the surveyor’s death—although it is unclear how long it took to rescue the supervisor and whether any delays in his rescue contributed to his death. Sadly, this type of tragic accident is all too common, and many maritime workers suffer similar fates every year.
Cruise Passengers Fall Overboard in Two Separate Incidents
While cruise ships are supposed to be fun and safe environments for guests and crew members, this, unfortunately, is not always the case. Accidents onboard cruise ships are common, from slips and falls to food poisoning incidents and physical and sexual assaults.
Falls overboard are also more common than most people realize. According to news reports, two such incidents occurred in December 2021. In the first incident, a woman fell overboard from a Carnival cruise ship near Ensenada, Mexico. The U.S. Coast Guard conducted a 31-hour search but was unable to locate the victim. In the second incident, a 15-year-old boy reportedly fell to his death from the MSC Seashore near Miami.
More Examples of Serious and Fatal Maritime Accidents from 2021
Maritime accidents involving all types of vessels occur in seas and waterways around the United States and around the world. Here are some more examples of serious and fatal maritime accidents in 2021:
- In January, a fishing boat was found adrift in the Pacific Ocean with all 10 of its crew members missing.
- In April, a cargo ship sank in the South China Sea, resulting in the death of one of its crew members.
- In May, a fishing trawler collided with a cargo vessel in dense fog. Three seamen onboard the fishing trawler drowned.
- In June, an offshore supply tug sank after striking a sunken wreck, leaving the tug’s captain dead and its engineer missing.
- In November, a lighter sank after a collision with a bulk carrier. Only three of the vessel’s six crew members were rescued.
While Maritime Accidents are Common, Most Can (and Should) Be Avoided
Despite federal laws and regulations designed to prevent maritime accidents, despite advancements in technology, and despite the legal liability companies can face when they put workers at risk unnecessarily, maritime accidents remain alarmingly common. Maritime workers who suffer job-related injuries can seek financial compensation under the Jones Act and other laws, and families who lose loved ones offshore can file claims as well.
In addition to being important for workers’ and family members’ recoveries, filing claims helps raise awareness of the prevalence of preventable maritime accidents. If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a maritime accident, we strongly encourage you to speak with a lawyer about standing up for your legal rights.
Speak with a Lawyer about Your Maritime Accident Claim
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