Contaminated Water Aboard Ship Leads To Infection and Amputation


water testingThis is a maritime case involving the quality of potable water for the crew of a 150’ offshore support vessel. The boat was at sea for a number of weeks and stopped at a seaport on the East coast of the United States. The plaintiff was bathing on the boat while in port. He eventually began having flu like symptoms and pain in his right  foot. Days later, the plaintiff noticed a small spot on his foot and eventually left the boat due to foot pain. After arriving at home, the plaintiff went to the ER due to severe pain. At the ER, the plaintiff had high blood pressure and low heart rate. He was referred to a specialist who diagnosed him with a vibrio infection. The only option was to amputate the foot, for the Plaintiff could have died due to the aggressive nature of the infection. The plaintiff had his leg amputated below the knee. The treating doctor also stated he had seen this type of infection before with infections combined with rust contamination. The vessel uses its own tanks for access to potable water, and on a number of occasions crew members had witnessed seawater entering the rusty tanks. The attorney has hired a medical specialist to opine on the cause of the infection but it is believed that the condition of the water tanks were responsible, providing an unsanitary breeding ground for the infection.

 

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Is there a standard for maintaining portable drinking water for crews on board large vessels?
  • 2. Who is responsible for the cleanliness of drinking/bathing water while at sea and at port?

Expert Witness Response E-008049

I have had extensive experience with potable water supplies. It is used for drinking and cleaning water, and must be kept in very clean so no bacteria can travel into the water supply. When you dock at a port, the ship must connect a hose to an area in the port that supplies the ship with the clean water. The shore side also must check that the water is acceptable, and must be on par with the Code of Federal Regulations. However, it is also the ship owner’s duty to make sure that the potable water has been taken good care of to avoid any illnesses. I have traveled and received potable water from ports all over the world, including Hong Kong, South Africa, and areas in South America, and I understand the necessities of keeping it within regulatory standards.

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