Today, six crew members filed a lawsuit seeking compensation for injuries sustained when the Maersk Alabama was hijacked by Somali pirates in April. The crew members sued Maersk Line Ltd., the operator of the vessel, and Waterman Steamship Corp., the crewing company which hired them. They are seeking damages for physical and mental injuries and loss of income.
The seaman allege that Maersk failed to adequately provide for self defense before transiting through deadly waters. The lawsuit raises interesting issues regarding the liability of vessel owners and operators, including cruise lines, for injuries sustained during pirate attacks.
Shipping companies and cruise lines face liability when they do not take reasonable steps to protect their passengers and crew members. They are legally responsible when they fail to protect the guests and crew from risks which are known or reasonably foreseeable.
Pirate Attacks Are Forseeable But Shipping Companies Want to Save Money
The risk of an attack by pirates, particularly from Somali is well known. No cargo or cruise line can argue with a straight face that an attack by pirates is unforeseeable. There have been literally hundreds of pirate attacks against a wide variety of cargo ships, cruise ships, and private yachts and sailboats in just the last few years.
The problem is that many companies do not want to spend the money to hire security guards. Or when they have security personnel, they do not permit them to have firearms to protect the passengers and crew. Many of the cruise ships cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but the cruise lines refuse to pay an extra $50,000 a year to hire a couple of extra guards and equip them with weapons to fight off the heavily armed pirates.
Many shipping companies think that they can save money by having virtually no security personel, and then ask the U.S. Navy to patrol the waters or come to the rescue after the ships are attacked by pirates. The Houston maritime lawyer representing the six crew members, Brian Beckcom, states that "Maersk made a conscious decision, despite going into pirate-infested waters, not to provide any meaningful security for its workers. Instead they’d just rely on the taxpayers and U.S. military to bail them out after the fact."
The filing of the lawsuit comes a day after the the Maersk Alabama was attacked by pirates off of East Africa for the second time in seven months. On November 18th the pirates again attacked the vessel, but this time the crew members successfully fended off the attackers because they had armed guards who returned gunfire. The vessel did not carry armed security during the first attack.
There have been a number of highly publicized pirate attacks against cruise ships in the last few years.
Pirates Love Cruise Ships – Attack Against the Seabourn Spirit
In November 2005, two speedboats full of pirates attacked the luxury cruise ship Seaborne Spirit, cruising about 100 miles off the coast of Africa. They began to board the cruise ship. Security Officer Michael Groves battled them off with a water hose, and the pirates responded with rocket propelled grenades and AK-47’s. Officer Groves’ bravery and grit defeated the heavily armed pack of pirates, and the vessel’s passengers and crew were saved. The Queen of England honored Officer Groves with a medal for his bravery.
If you are interested in this story, I suggest reading "Bad Ass of the Week- Michael Groves."
Although the story ended happily for the Seaborne Spirit’s passengers who continued on with their luxury cruise, the fact of the matter is that the owners of the cruise ship (Carnival) had irresponsibly jeopardized the passengers and crew members by sailing into well know dangerous waters with an inadequate number of security personnel who were completely unarmed. Carnival also treated Officer Groves, who himself was injured by the pirates, quite shabbily and refused to compensate him for his injuries.
Pirate Attack Against the Balmoral – Security Guards with Fake Guns
Earlier this year, pirates repeatedly attacked the cruise ship Balmoral. The cruise ship’s security employees were obviously ill equipped to handle the attack. The Sun newspaper reported that the security guards were forced to to fashion "gun-shaped weapons from pieces of wood in the hope of deterring the attackers."
The newspaper reports that one passenger e-mailed a boyfriend about the attack: "I stood on the deck and watched through binoculars at men in the fishing boat armed with AK-47 rifles and rocket launchers. They were 300-400 metres away. Last night a lot of the passengers – many are in their 70s and 80s – were in tears and frightened to death."
The passenger also commented: "the security have made guns from wood – like that’s going to help!
Oasis of the Seas – A Pirate’s Dream?
The risks of pirate attacks against cruise ships are so well known that even Saturday Night Live joked about Royal Caribbean’s new mega-ship the Oasis of the Seas being attacked by pirates. The cruise community site Cruise Critic recently commented on Seth Meyer’s cruise joke on the Weekend Update segment.
"The 20-story-tall Oasis of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship, began her maiden voyage this week. Five times larger than the Titanic, it has seven neighborhoods, an ice rink, a golf course, a 750-seat outdoor amphitheater, and please say guns to fight off the pirates. No? No guns to fight off pirates? Well, enjoy your new boat, pirates!"
Unfortunately. there will be additional pirate attacks against cruise ships. The Oasis of the Seas cost Royal Caribbean $1,500,000,000. If Royal Caribbean and the other cruise lines don’t invest in reasonable security measures, such as additional security guards, weaponry, and anti-pirate devices, they will find themselves – like the Maersk Alabama – being served with lawsuits by injured passengers and crew members.
Maersk Alabama AP/Azim
Pirates Attacking the Balmoral News Group Newspapers Ltd.
Seth Meyers Saturday Night Live (via Cruise Critic)