The death of eleven oil rig workers on the Deepwater Horizon has sparked a debate in Congress about repealing the antiquated and inequitable statute, the Death On The High Seas Act (DOHSA). This old law dating back to 1920 does not permit surviving wives and children compensation for their grief and bereavement when they lose a loved one on the high seas whether on a oil rig or cruise ship.
BP and Cruise Lines Connected At The Hip Pocket?
Recently, there have been a number of articles that discuss DOHSA and reveal that the cruise industry will be joining forces with BP to repel any efforts of the grieving family members to repeal DOHSA. Mother Jones pointed out in "Will the Cruise Industry Do BP’s Dirty Work?
CNN ran an article entitled "My Son’s Family Deserves More from BP" explaining that the cruise lines have consistently fought against families trying to change DOSHA.
And AOL’s Daily Finance even covered the issue with an interesting article "The Death On The High Seas act Needs Fixing – Just Ask BP’s Widows." This article points out that prior efforts to reform DOHSA were "sunk" by the vociferous cruise industry’s "lobbying muscle" – probably to avoid paying any compensation to the 34 passengers who were lost overboard during cruises from 2003 – 2007 according to an article "Death On The High Seas" in the Guardian newspaper.
Should Al Qaeda And Terrorist States Be Protected By DOHSA Too?
But the harsh effects of DOHSA are not limited to the grieving families of cruise victims and dead oil workers.
The families of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen learned about DOHSA when Al Qaeda terrorists killed their loved ones on the U.S.S. Cole. 17 men and women were brutally murdered when suicide bombers rammed their speed boat loaded with explosives into the U.S. navy ship. 56 family members filed suit against the government of Sudan for sponsoring the terrorist organization.
A Federal District Judge applied DOHSA because the deaths occurred outside of U.S. territorial waters. He dismissed the claims of 22 of the family members and limited the recovery of the rest to strictly lost wages. Not one child or surviving spouse received a penny for the mental anguish and misery caused by the horrific criminal act of the terrorists and the complicit renegade country.
The inequity of DOHSA was not lost on the Judge who commented in Rux v. Republic of Sudan, 495 F.Supp.2d 541(E.D. Va. 2007) :
The court sympathizes greatly with plaintiffs, who continue to suffer terribly years after their loved ones died. But the court is bound to follow the legal precedent before it. Congress makes the laws; courts merely interpret them. Whether to amend DOHSA to allow more liberal recovery in cases of death caused by terrorism on the high seas . . is a question for Congress alone.
Its Time to Act – Repeal the Death On The High Seas Act
There is a Facebook page created for the families of the oil workers killed in the BP explosion. Please click on the link, leave a word of support, and contact your representative in Congress.
As your senator "why should BP, foreign flagged cruise lines and Al Qaeda be protected by DOHSA?"
For additional information, please consider reading:
Scranton Time Tribune: "Amend Law On Deaths At Sea"
Cruise Law News:
Deepwater Horizon U.S. Coast Guard