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What Causes Dredge Accidents?

Last week, a dredge struck a pipeline in the Corpus Christi Ship Channel, killing four people and injuring six others. It was owned by Orion Marine Group. While officials work to determine the cause of the incident, initial reports suggest that the pipeline struck by the dredge was not clearly marked. As investigations into the incident continue, one thing is clear: dredge accidents such as this should never happen. 

Dredges and the crews that operate them are the unsung heroes of the maritime industry. Without them, many of the nation’s most important waterways and channels would be inaccessible for commerce. Working on a dredge is challenging. Crews on these excavating vessels face danger each day on the job caused by machinery, conditions, and more. With the proper safety precautions, dredge accidents don't happen. Without them, preventable and tragic incidents occur.

What Is a Dredger? 

A dredger is a vessel that excavates material from the floor of a waterway to make it possible or safer for other ships to navigate. A dredger loosens material, brings it to the surface, hauls it away, and then disposes of it.

To understand how dredging accidents happen, it’s helpful to be familiar with the two types of dredgers that are commonly used. Suction dredgers use a long vacuum-like tube to remove material from the bed of a waterway. Some types of suction dredgers use powerful tools to break up material before it’s removed by the suction tube. Mechanical dredges utilize strength and force to get the job done. Typically, a mechanical dredger uses a grabber or bucket to excavate. 

Causes of Dredging Accidents 

Machinery Accidents 

Crews on dredge vessels face many dangers as they work. Dredging equipment is heavy, powerful, and requires extensive training and specific procedures for safe operation. As they operate, a crane malfunction can cause a dredge’s payload to fall, crushing those beneath it. Since dredging is rough on machinery, companies must make sure they’re maintaining it. A failure to perform proper mechanical maintenance can cause catastrophic failures that lead to preventable injuries or death. 

A Lack of Safety Procedures 

Every person on the deck of a dredger has a specific task. To make sure they are operating safely, crewmembers need to communicate clearly and work in sync. A momentary lapse in procedure can cause a crane to drop a load too early or trigger another type of preventable accident. Owners of dredging vessels must ensure that crews are adequately trained and that they always follow safety procedures. 

Deck Conditions 

The deck of a dredge vessel is filled with dangers. First, there are the dangers of machinery, steep drops, ropes, cables, and other parts of the ship that are dangerous to workers. Then, there’s the water and weather that can compound any danger on the ship, making slip and fall accidents common. Vessels owners know of these dangers and are obligated by the law to mitigate them.  

One of the most common types of dredge accidents is falling overboard. Besides natural conditions, dredges can suddenly jolt as they excavate dense or tough material. 


Dredgers face the possibility of collision from dangers below the water as well as from those above it. Dredging vessels work to clear the way for other ships. This makes them particularly vulnerable to running aground or colliding with underwater hazards. Additionally, since dredgers often operate in busy channels, they’re at constant risk of colliding with larger and smaller vessels 

Working Around Other Industries 

As mentioned above, dredgers make offshore commerce possible. This means that these excavating vessels often work with and near other types of industries. Crews on dredgers face dangers from shipping vessels, offshore oil vessels, and, as seen in Corpus Christi, pipelines used by companies in waterways. Dredgers require the vessels and companies they work near to value safety as much as they do to produce the safest environment possible.  

Why Are Dredging Accidents So Serious? 

Dredging accidents are serious because they are often life-altering and are entirely preventable. Injuries caused by dredge accidents are often serious, painful, and require extensive rehabilitation. 

Dredge accident injuries include the following: 

These injuries aren’t just serious—they’re completely preventable. Companies are required to protect their workers from accidents and the dangers that cause them. Since dredging is dangerous, vessel owners are required by law to make sure their workers are safe. When they fail to do this, they should be held accountable. 

At Arnold & Itkin, our dredge accident lawyers understand what it takes to help clients recover after serious maritime accidents. We’ve fought to hold some of the largest companies in the offshore industry accountable for negligence, and we’re ready to keep doing so until workers receive the justice they deserve. If you’ve been in an accident, our team is standing by to provide you with a free and confidential consultation at (888) 493-1629.  


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