Tuesday, 5 June 2012

'Maersk Alabama's' crew file US $50 million lawsuits for 2009 pirate attack

Norfolk based 'The Virginian Pilot' reports that 'more than half' of crew of the ship 'Maersk Alabama' who were aboard when she was attacked by Somali pirates in April 2009 have filed lawsuits in the State of Virginia against the owner and operator of the vessel. Some of the crew had filed suit in Texas soon after the 2009 incident; it is believed that jurisdictional issues there may have prompted these fresh lawsuits. 

In 2009, the drama of the attack on the Alabama- and the subsequent killing of three pirates who were holding the ship's Captain Richard Phillips hostage in a lifeboat- had riveted the attention of much of the US media. US Navy seal snipers had ended the five day stand off by shooting dead the three pirates. Phillips became an instant hero; he later wrote a book on the attack- 'A Captain's Duty.' Tom Hanks was to play his character in a film that was announced soon afterwards. 

Eleven of Phillip's shipmates have now gone to court, claiming that they were put in grave danger at the time by the owner and operator of the vessel- through Phillip's actions- because she was taken much closer to the Somali coastline-despite official warnings from MARAD, the US Maritime Administration- to save fuel and money. They are claiming close to $50 million in damages from owner Maersk Line Ltd and operators and crewing company Waterman Steamship Corporation. The eleven crew accuse the companies of negligence and failing in their duty of care in providing for safe working conditions; they claim, additionally, that they were not reasonably compensated for lost wages and medical expenses.  Nine of these suits seek $1 million each in damages. Two of them seek $20 million each.

Attorney for the plaintiffs Deborah C. Waters said, "Captain Phillips and Maersk put the men in harm's way, in spite of warnings to keep them out of the pirate-infested waters."They did so for financial gain."
The eleven claim that both Waterman and Maersk had received warnings that ships should keep at least 600 miles off the Somali coast to evade pirates. However, the companies disregarded these warnings, they claim, and "through their officers, employees, and/or agents," decided to bring the Maersk Alabama within about 250 miles of the coast.

Maersk says the suits are "merit-less, that it has compensated the crew fairly and denies "any and all fault, liability or negligence," adding that any damages resulting from the attack were not caused by the company but by Somali pirates. In any case, it claims that any damages to crew were caused by risks inherent in their work- that the Alabama crew "understood and freely assumed," and that the US Coast Guard's approval of the Alabama's security plan means that the owners enjoy immunity. The other defendants- Waterman- have filed a response saying that the Virginia courts have no jurisdiction over the company because it is not registered to do business there. 


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