MIAMI, Florida– A captain of the Spirit of Baltimore cruise ship was found to have fallen asleep while operating the passenger midnight party cruise this past summer. On August 28, the 119-foot passenger boat was carrying about 400 passengers when it crashed into two moored recreational boats and the floating pier at Henderson’s Wharf Resort Marina in Fells Point, Maryland. The accident resulted in two passengers being hospitalized for injuries and about $100,000 in damages to the wharf.
A recent investigation by the Coast Guard investigators determined that the captain had been working other jobs that week and had not gotten much sleep. According to the Coast Guard investigators, the captain should not have been operating the boat at the time the accident happened. This is the reason there are maritime regulations governing the number of hours a crew member, like a captain or a watchman, can be on duty without a certain amount of time in between for rest. Additionally, there are international conventions that apply worldwide regarding the number of hours you can work without a break, and how much break there must be in between the next assignment.
It is not uncommon to find out that the cause of an accident, including a very serious and catastrophic crash, are due to the fatigue of the crew from working too many hours over a certain span of time. Not only is the crew member in jeopardy of injuring himself from the fatigue, but someone like a captain or a watchman, who is relied upon for the safe operation of a vessel, can cause very serious damages and even loss of life if he or she do not get adequate rest.
In this case it appears the captain may have been working another job unknown to his employer, which also is not uncommon. A company must be extremely careful to assure that their crew, especially officers, are not performing other jobs, and assure that they get the adequate rest breaks mandated by the regulations to avoid serious injuries and wrongful death.
There have been many incidents over the years where crew members have injured themselves due to being overworked by their employer, where the employer is guilty of overworking the crew in violation of standards in the industry. There can be liability on the part of the employer for not providing adequate rest breaks to the crew, and overworking them past the number of hours permissible under applicable regulations and standards.
In the cruise ship industry, it becomes more problematic as to which standards, if any actually apply to the crew members because of the foreign flag vessels and the foreign labor. On cruise ships we have seen lower level employees required to work more than 70 hours per week, which is more than 10 hours per day, for the duration of their six, seven, and even eight month contracts. Many years ago they were working these types of hours, seven days a week for ten-month contracts, and then the contracts were shortened a little bit, but still many injuries and accidents involving the crew members can be attributable to fatigue from over working the crew members.
It is obviously a cost decision of the cruise ship company not to provide a day off and more breaks and have more crew members onboard, instead of overworking the crew. Of course, having additional workers to allow for more rest time and breaks would require utilizing more cabin spaces to house the crew, resulting in less room for passengers. This would mean less passenger ticket sales, resulting in less profits to the cruise ship company.