Seafaring jobs are notorious for being dangerous. Maritime accidents can cause serious injuries, deaths, and wide-scale destruction. While we’re always at the mercy of the weather or a surprise equipment failure, we can take reasonable steps to ensure the risk of an accident is mitigated as much as possible.

Here is a list of the most common causes of maritime accidents, many of which can be avoided with adequate training and safety measures.

Human Error

In a study published in 2015 by the Committee Studies and Services of Marine Insurers and Transport (CESAM) which looked at 908 maritime accidents over a three-year span, a startling 67% were caused by human error. These mistakes were due to inexperience or inadequate training, as well as mental or physical fatigue.

One of the most famous examples of a maritime accident caused by human error was the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in 1989. The supertanker crashed off the coast of Alaska, spilling 11 million gallons of oil, costing over $4 billion, and impacting 1,300 shoreline miles of property, wildlife, and the livelihoods of the area’s residents.

All this destruction was caused by a crew member’s intoxication. Had he been sober and following proper procedures, billions of dollars and years of environmental destruction could have been saved.

Equipment Failure

About a quarter (24%) of maritime accidents in the CESAM study can be attributed to equipment failures. For example, a GPS system may malfunction. GPS data affects many functions on a large ship like “position fixing, radar over ground speed inputs, gyro speed input, and loss of collision avoidance capabilities,” according to the Maritime Accident Casebook.

The grounding of the Royal Majesty cruise ship in 1995 was one of the first maritime accidents attributed to lost GPS. Unfortunately, when the Royal Majesty lost GPS positioning, it was set to feed the autopilot incorrect information. Fortunately, this accident didn’t involve any injuries or deaths, but damages were estimated at $7 million.

Equipment failures can’t always be prevented; however regular maintenance or replacement of old or faulty parts can help to keep the crew and other nearby vessels safe.

Other Causes

Hazardous materials, acts of nature, and other causes account for about 9% of maritime accidents.

A weather-related accident happened in February 2014 when the Danish container ship Svendborg Maersk encountered violent weather conditions beyond what had been predicted. The raging seas – including 30-foot waves and 60-knot winds – tossed more than 500 containers off the ship, but none of the crew was injured.


If you’ve been involved in a maritime accident due to unsafe working conditions or another crew member’s failure to follow proper procedures, you may be entitled to reimbursement for medical costs, lost wages, and more. Talk to our lawyers to learn more.