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Steven M. Lee, PC

What You Risk When You Work on an Oil Tanker


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1/18/2017
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Oil tankers are among the largest ships you will see on the water. There are two types of tankers, those that transport unrefined oil and those that transport refined oil. Unrefined oil tankers transport thousands of gallons of crude oil to refineries, where it undergoes processing and refined into fuel. Refined oil tankers transport the already-processed product to be distributed.

Oil tankers are essential to our nation’s economy, but when accidents happen, they can also cause a lot of destruction. If a tanker runs aground, millions of gallons of oil can pour out into the waterway, killing every animal and plant in its path. It can ruin the environment in that area for decades and disrupt an entire ecosystem. But that’s not all. In addition to the environmental risks, an oil tanker accident can also be monumentally hazardous for its crew.

Fire! The #1 Tanker Hazard That Places Crew Members at Risk

One of the largest risks maritime crew members face is the risk of fire. Unfortunately, the risk for oil tank crews is the highest of all maritime workers. Think about it: An oil tanker is essentially an enormous floating container of flammable fluid. More than 80 percent of the ship is filled to the brim with petroleum, while another five percent or more is saturated with combustible fumes.

One mistake, one malfunction, one spark, and that’s all she wrote—the oil or fumes can ignite, and the ship can explode, leaving the crew with severe burns, concussive wounds, internal bleeding, and even fatal injuries.

Common Causes of Tanker Fires

The construction and purpose of oil tankers provide all of the necessary elements for a fire— oxygen, fuel, and an ignition source. However, the third and most important element, an ignition source, is the one factor that can be controlled by the crew.

Unfortunately, unlike oxygen and fuel, potential ignition sources are scattered throughout the tanker, and require constant maintenance and monitoring. These sources include:

  • Sparks from machinery and electrical outlets. Although electrical equipment is kept far away from the oil, a single spark can still ignite the fumes that permeate throughout the ship.
  • Defective or poorly-maintained lighting. It can get extremely dark below decks, and lights are often overlooked as potential ignition sources. Even worse, flammable fumes can fill a light bulb with gas. When the light goes out, the broken filament can spark the fumes and explode, thus igniting any gas or other fumes outside the bulb. In addition, crew members can easily forget about the dangers and decide to light their way in the dark with a match or flame from a lighter—both of which could be disastrous.
  • Negligent crew members. Speaking of dangerous crew actions, smoking is a big problem for oil tanker crews. Although there are specially designated areas for smoking, often the risks outweigh the vice, or at least they should. Unfortunately, the need for a nicotine fix can alter a person’s judgment and cause him to light up without verifying whether it’s safe. Again, due to lingering fumes, even an empty tanker can still be flammable.

Learn More and Share to Protect Your Loved Ones

Life as an oil tanker crew member can be quite rewarding, but also incredibly dangerous. If you know someone who works in the industry, please share this article with them as a safety precaution.

For more information on oil tanker and maritime work risks feel free to browse our extensive collection of articles and frequently asked questions. You can also take advantage of our offshore legal skills by scheduling a complimentary consultation. Simply fill out the brief contact form provided on this page or call us directly to get started.



Category: Maritime and Offshore Cases

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