Maritime Experts Discuss Industry Standards For Medical Treatment Aboard Vessels

Maritime Expert

This case involves a crew member of a shipping vessel who began experiencing symptoms of vomiting, bloody discharge, and severe abdominal pain. Though her symptoms were severe, no attempt was made to see that she received emergency medical attention on shore because there were no nearby port calls. Her symptoms persisted and worsened over the next 3 weeks. When the vessel finally landed, the crew member received treatment at a rural hospital which was not equipped to provide the necessary care. It was an additional 3 weeks before the crew member was able to receive the necessary treatment. By then, it was discovered that the crew member had developed a severe gastrointestinal infection from e-coli bacteria. She ultimately recovered but suffers from chronic medical complications including irritable bowel syndrome. An expert in maritime medical services was sought to review the facts of this case to determine if the shipping company’s response to this incident met the industry standards for medical response aboard a seafaring vessel.


Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Please describe your work managing medical emergencies aboard maritime vessels.
  • 2. What steps should typically be followed to address medical emergencies at sea?

Expert Witness Response E-071719

I served in the U.S. Merchant Marines for 20+ years and have held the position of medical person in charge several times during my shipboard career. I have had to call shore side medical services and speak with doctors via satellite phone to discuss medical issues regarding several crewmembers under my care. I have sent crew members ashore for medical attention, have filled out the required paperwork, and have familiarized myself with company procedures. I would be interested in learning more about the circumstances of this incident. For example, did the company contact the shoreside medical service to inquire about how to provide care for the injured crew member? What medical service does the shipping company use? Why was the crew member not removed from the vessel or sent ashore for medical treatment sooner? If the vessel did not have a port call sooner, and if the illness warranted it, the shipping company could have provided a medical evacuation via helicopter or maneuvered the ship close to shore to leave the crew member with a shuttle.

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