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Randy Appleton
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Running Aground Can be Deadly on Big Ships and Small Boats Alike

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If you’ve checked out any major news website in the last couple of days, you’ve likely seen the shocking photos of a giant cruise ship laying on its side in waters off the coast of Italy. After running aground on the rocky shoreline of Tuscany, a massive search and rescue option has been underway for the more than 4,000 people aboard.

For those of us in Virginia Beach, this news hits pretty close to home. The Virginian-Pilot Pilot Online is reporting that among the 126 Americans on board, two live in Virginia Beach. Rick Langlands and his girlfriend Karen Kennedy were safely evacuated from the ship by lifeboat and now say it will be a trip they will talk about for a long time—but definitely not for the reasons they would have hoped for. Instead of the Mediterranean cruise they planned, the couple will be returning home over the weekend.

But seeing a cruise ship on its side strikes a nerve for another reason. Those of us in Virginia Beach are no strangers to the risks of boats running aground. Sure, most of us have thankfully never seen anything on the magnitude of the tragedy unfolding off the coast of Italy. But regardless of the size of the boat — enormous cruise ship or small fishing vessel — running aground spells bad news for boaters.

And as my colleague Kevin Duffan has written about on several occasions, the North Carolina (NC) and Virginia (VA) coastlines are particularly dangerous as a result of shoaling. The persistent problem of waterways around Oregon Inlet means that the shoals are constantly shifting, presenting boaters with always-changing and sometimes hidden dangers. When a boat does run aground, it can create collision-like consequences, causing passengers to be tossed around or even thrown off board. Vital instrument failure, gas leaks, or electrical problems may make staying on the boat unsafe. And if the boat starts to take on water, injured or disoriented passengers may not be able to get to safety. Even if everyone escapes unscathed, they may face the possibility of being stranded on the shoal.

These risks are the same whether we’re talking about a large ship or a small vessel, meaning that all boat captains and crews need to be aware of the ground under the water.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.