US Bodily Injury News November 2011 Piracy – A brief overview of
issues and concerns Piracy is one of the most prominent issues that shipowners face today, and is likely to continue to grow as it has proven to be a lucrative business.
Karen C. Hildebrandt, Dolores O’Leary and John Turner
Pirate activity continues to increase off the coast of Africa and is now expanding to other areas as well. Just this past summer, the Club issued a bulletin alerting Members to pirate activity off the north coast ofVenezuela.
Piracy is likely to continue to grow as it has proven to be a lucrative business, with pirates commanding ransom payments in excess of $7 million.
One of the most highly publicized pirate attacks was the Maersk Alabama, which occurred off the coast of Africa in April 2009.Tw
o lawsuits have been filed in Texas State Court by crewmembers who had been held hostage.
The Complaints are the usual Jones Act and unseaworthiness allegations:
Defendants failed to provide a safe place for the crew to work
Defendants knowingly sent the crew into “pirate infested” waters without adequate protection
There were safer routes that the vessel could have taken
Defendants were relying on the U.S. military and taxpayers to protect and rescue the crew
The vessel was unseaworthy
The Plaintiffs allege that they have suffered serious and permanent injuries to mind and body as a result of being taken hostage by the pirates. There is also maintenance and cure counts with the usual demand for punitive damages.
At this juncture, the case has not progressed at all, with only procedural matters having been addressed. As a result, we are left to speculate as to what the defense will argue. One would expect that the “notice” issue will play a large part in the case. For example, what did the defendants know, when did they know it, what should they have known and when should they have known it, are all questions that will undoubtedly be raised.
It is likely that defendants will argue that they had no notice of the dangers or they acted reasonably in response to the perceived dangers. (After all, this was the first pirate attack on a U.S. ship in 200 years.) Further, the vessel had a security plan which had been reviewed and approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Also, the pirate attack was a criminal act for which the defendants should not be held responsible. Finally, the vessel was seaworthy, i.e., it was fit for its intended purpose.
The plaintiffs, on the other hand, will argue that the defendants cannot say that they did not have notice of pirate activity in the waters off Africa since it had been in the news, and the IMO had confirmed 27 pirate attacks and hijacking of vessels from 1st January 2009 to 12th May 2009. Plaintiffs will likely refute the defendants’ argument that the attack was criminal by arguing that shipowners should have had prior notice of the criminal activity.
And what about the security plan which was reviewed and approved by the U.S. Coast Guard? Plaintiffs will demand to know when the plan was
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