When pirates attack, can seamen sue?
The Maersk Alabama was attacked again yesterday off the coast of Somalia –- Somali pirates had first targeted the ship last Spring in a dramatic attack ended by U.S. Navy snipers. This latest, of course, generated mention of a lawsuit former crew members filed against the company in a Texas court over the spring attack, reportedly accusing Maersk of negligence in sending the crew into pirate territory with inadequate protection.
“Obviously she’s a hot target,” one of the former crew members told the Associated Press. “The bad guys were laying in wait for her.”
San Francisco maritime attorney Edward Bull III said his firm, Brodsky, Micklow, Bull & Weiss (which carries the best tagline ever: “Lawyers Worth Their Salt”), employed a similar legal theory on a case that resolved about 18 months ago.
Shiver me timbers, looks like more litigation work on the horizon, after the jump ...
In that case, a tuna boat captain was beaten by pirates who boarded his boat in Ecuador. His company had had cash delivered to the vessel, and the captain was worried about that as well as poor lighting and the area where he was forced to anchor the ship.
That case resolved in a satisfactory settlement, Bull said, though he said details were confidential.
As for the Maersk case, he said, “The legal theories are sound as long as the evidence is there.” On the other hand, he added, the company could argue that these were criminal acts beyond the company’s control, and that if the U.S. Navy can’t even stop pirate attacks, how can they?
In a statement the Navy issued about Wednesday’s pirate attack, which was thwarted by gun-toting security guards, the commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said it was “a great example of how merchant mariners can take pro-active action to prevent being attacked and why we recommend that ships follow industry best practices if they're in high-risk areas."
Those best practices dealing with security are a popular topic for maritime companies, Bull said.
And while pirate-related work isn’t piling up on maritime lawyers’ desks, it’s likely on the rise, Bull added, given that U.S.-flagged ships make more attractive targets to potential pirates. “I do think we’re going to see more of this.”
— Kate Moser