Popular Movie About Piracy Shines Spotlight on Recent Changes in Maritime Law
Earlier this year the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion for a case originally heard in the Western District of Washington, answering the question of whether the actions of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society qualify as piracy. The definition of piracy has evolved as piracy in the 21st century has evolved. No longer is maritime piracy limited to the scenes often found in theme parks and Halloween costumes where there are peg-legs and eye patches and theft. Now, two different federal Court of Appeals opinions emphasize that piracy does not have to include completed robberies or intent to obtain financial gain.
Modern day piracy on the high seas is currently featured in the movie, Captain Phillips, which is based on real-life events that occurred in 2009. Somali pirates boarded the Maersk Alabama in an attempt to take over the ship, but ended up taking the captain hostage on a lifeboat. The kidnapping resulted in a stand-off between the pirates and the US Navy, who ultimately rescued the captain after shots were fired and three of the pirates were killed. The event sparked a still-pending lawsuit brought by the crew members against the shipping company, alleging negligence by the captain, shipping company, and ship operator. The complaint alleges that the captain was forewarned about the danger of piracy, and chose to steer too close to the coast after a clear warning to stay at least 600 miles off the coast of Somalia.
The negligent actions of a captain have been addressed in several maritime law cases heard by the United States Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. In Exxon Co. v. Sofec, Inc., 517 U.S. 830 (1996), the court precluded the shipping company's ability to recover costs for property damage due to the extremely negligent acts of the captain. Other cases, like Earl v. Bouchard Transportation Co., Inc. 917 F.2d 1320, (2d Cir. 1990) addressed the question of whether the negligent actions of the crew member occurred because they were following orders from the captain. In that case, the court ruled that if the fact finder determines that the crew member was acting upon their superior's orders, the shipowner could not limit the amount of liability and damages owed to the injured crew member.
The hierarchical structure of maritime ships has been established for hundreds of years. Captains can help lead crew members through safe and successful voyages, or they can fall prey to exhaustion and poor decision making, leading to severe injury and property damage. The Washington maritime law attorneys, John Merriam and Gordon Webb, understand the challenges a crew member faces while sailing onboard a vessel. With over 50 years of combined experience as admiralty law attorneys, they understand the intricacies of life at sea and the maritime law court system. If you are a crew member who has been injured as a result of the ship owner's or captain's negligent actions, contact the Seattle Maritime Attorneys today at 877.800.1007.