Former Maersk Alabama Crew Sues Ship Owner and Operator Over Hijacking

Published May 29, 2012 10:55 AM by The Maritime Executive

More than half of the former crewmen of the Maersk Alabama have now filed lawsuits against Maersk Line Ltd., the container ship’s owner and operator, and Waterman Steamship – who also operated and crewed the vessel. The suit is in response to an attack on the ship by Somali pirates in April 2009.

Even though the ship’s master, Capt. Richard Phillips, was hailed as a hero, 11 former crewmembers allege that his employers, through Phillips' actions, put them in critical danger when the ship sailed within about 250 miles of the Somali coast - despite warnings to stay at least 600 miles out because of pirate activity, reports the Journal of Commerce.

The lifeboat from the Maersk Alabama is hoisted aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer to be processed for evidence.

Legal representatives for the crew say they ignored warnings about the possible danger only for financial gain. They are seeking nearly $50 million in damages from Norfolk-based Maersk Line Ltd. and Alabama-based Waterman Steamship. This is to compensate bodily injury claims and an array of other damages. They accused the two companies of negligence, failing to provide safe working conditions, and failing to pay injured crew members reasonable reparation for medical expenses and lost wages.

Both companies deal with U.S.-flag vessels, so crewmembers generally must be U.S. citizens. The 20 crewmembers aboard the Maersk Alabama at the time of the hijacking were from nine states and Canada.

Maersk has publicly said the lawsuits are without merit. Waterman Steamship argues that Virginia courts have no jurisdiction over the company because it is not registered to do business in Virginia. No hearings have been scheduled yet in the case, which isn't expected to go to trial for a year.

Captain Phillips (right) with Commander Frank Castellano of the USS Bainbridge after being rescued.