There is no end to the perils that can happen on commercial vessels, but shipboard fires are one of the most terrifying kinds of maritime accidents. Whether you are a harbor worker, shipbuilder, or a crew member on a cargo ship, your workplace is filled with combustible materials that could ignite in a second, causing lifelong complications or fatal injuries.

Injuries Caused by Fires and Explosions at Sea

A sudden explosion can injure or kill workers in the initial blast, or cause fires that cause devastation as they spread throughout the ship. Exposure to open flames, extreme heat, and Maritime Ship Fire With a Cloud of Smoke and Fumessmoldering cargo can cause a wide range of injuries to seamen. In many cases, workers will suffer high medical costs, ongoing physical therapy, and long recovery times—and their injuries may cause permanent limitations that make them unable to return to their former employment.

Fires aboard a ship can cause a wide range of injuries, including:

  • Infections. Burn injuries can damage several layers of skin tissue, placing victims at risk of deep-tissue infections. Victims may require skin grafting or hospitalization in sterile environments to ensure their wounds heal properly.
  • Lung damage. Inhalation of burning oils, smoke, and other toxic fumes can cause breathing problems and long-term complications (such as asthma).
  • Nerve damage. Even after a burn injury has healed, nerve fibers may be permanently damaged, causing pain, tingling, itching, numbness, or an inability to sense touch or temperature changes on the affected body part.
  • Scarring or disfigurement. Victims may need several reconstructive surgeries to minimize scarring or “rebuild” the skin on damaged limbs. Even after healing, victims may suffer permanent baldness due to loss of hair follicles, shiny or stretched skin on the burn site, or visible scarring that alters their appearance.
  • Loss of a limb. A victim may lose an arm or leg in the blast of an explosion, or undergo surgical amputation of a limb if burn damage is severe.
  • Eye injuries. Victims whose eyes were damaged in the fire may suffer light sensitivity, temporary loss of eyesight, or permanent blindness.
  • Disability. Burn injury victims may have significant muscle loss, affecting their mobility or ability to lift heavy objects.
  • Psychological injuries. The mental and emotional trauma of an incident at sea can be just as damaging—and last a great deal longer—than its physical injuries. Victims may require long-term counseling to cope with feelings of anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Death. Unfortunately, many fires and explosions will have fatal effects for crew members who are close to the flames or who do not receive immediate lifesaving treatment.

Common Causes of Maritime Fires

While most employees cannot sue their employers after an injury, maritime workers have the ability to sue employers and shipowners if their negligence led to the accident. When this happens, injured seaman could receive compensation for their injury costs and seek punitive damages in addition to their maintenance and cure benefits.

Explosions at sea are often caused by:

  • Unseaworthiness. Shipowners have a duty to ensure that seamen and crew members have a reasonably safe place to work. If injuries occur because the vessel was not designed properly, was not adequately maintained, did not undergo regular inspections, or was not equipped with the machinery needed to perform work safely, workers may have a valid unseaworthiness claim.
  • Poor training. If the fire resulted from a coworker’s mistake, you may have a claim against your employer for hiring negligence or improper training.
  • Malfunctioning parts. If the machinery, wiring, or other components installed in the ship were faulty, you may have a claim against the parts manufacturer or the shipowner who provided substandard equipment.

If you have been involved in a maritime accident, our Jones Act injury attorneys can perform a full investigation to determine who was at fault. Simply fill out our quick online contact form or call (800) 362-9329 to speak with a lawyer at Hofmann & Schweitzer today, or read through our FREE brochure, Hurt in a Construction Accident? You’re Not Alone.


Paul T. Hofmann
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Focused on personal injury, with an emphasis on maritime, railroad and construction worker tort claims.