Nine of the crew members, approximately half of those who were aboard the Captain PhillipsMaersk Alabama during the April 2009 pirate attack, have filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against shipping company Maersk Line Limited and its owner Waterman Steamship Corp. They are claiming that warnings were ignored and the vessel was willfully allowed to sail into pirate-infested waters.
The attack and vessel hijacking are portrayed in the movie Captain Phillips staring Tom Hanks and has earned several Oscar nominations, which will be handed out this weekend, including: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Should any of the cast or crew of Captain Phillips win the golden statue on Sunday, we wanted to take this opportunity remind all of you that behind the glamour of the Oscars and the silver screen, this movie calls to the forefront a very real issue about crew safety and their legal rights.
Crew members may sue their employer for negligence under the Jones Act and the vessel owner for unseaworthiness under the General Maritime Law of the United States.
In this lawsuit, the seamen are claiming Maersk, the employer, acted with negligence by ignoring warnings to remain at least 600 miles from the Somali Coast. U.S. Naval accounts place the vessel less than 300 nautical miles from shore at the time of the attack. The lawsuit also claims that Waterman Steamship Corporation, the vessel owner, allowed crew members to sail aboard an unseaworthy vessel in that it was not equipped with adequate anti-piracy security measures.
Since April 2009, the Maersk Alabama has fended off two more attempted pirate attacks with the assist of armed guards aboard the vessel.
It’s important to note that Captain Phillips is not a target of the lawsuit, though proving negligence at the helm could be key for damages.
Just recently another pirate attack made headlines. In October 2013 two crew members – the captain and chief engineer – of an oilfield supply ship were kidnapped off the coast of Nigeria. After being held hostage for three weeks, the seamen were released.
According to the International Maritime Bureau, in 2013 alone, there were more than 40 pirate attacks in the oil-rich area off the West African coast prior to this incident. Which begs the question – what will it take for the shipping industry to begin protecting its crew?
It seems employers and vessel owners are content to continue plotting courses through pirate-infested waters to save time and expense, and pass the costs of rescue efforts to the taxpayers rather than pay preventative costs upfront or plot longer courses to avoid these dangerous areas. Hopefully, the suit by the crew of the Maersk Alabama will focus the shipping industry’s attention on this issue before another ship is taken.