Crew of U.S. Ship in Piracy Drama Sues for $50M

June 1, 2012

More than half the crew members of a container ship that was at the center of a piracy drama off Somalia in April 2009 are suing for nearly $50 million, contending their captain ignored warnings to sail clear of pirate-infested waters off Africa.

The lawsuits have been filed by 11 crew members aboard the Maersk Alabama, a Norfolk-based ship, the Virginian-Pilot newspaper reported Saturday. The five-day standoff ended when Navy SEALs killed three of Capt. Richard Phillips’ captors.

While Phillips was hailed as a hero, his former crew members allege his actions put them in grave danger when the ship sailed within about 250 miles (400 kilometers) of the African coast despite warnings to stay at least 600 miles (960 kilometers) offshore because of the threat of piracy.

Phillips is not named in the lawsuits, filed in courts in Norfolk and Mobile, Alabama. The newspaper said it could not reach him for comment, and The Associated Press could not immediately locate a phone number for him.

Named in the suits are the owner of the ship, Maersk Line Ltd., and Waterman Steamship Corp. The Alabama company operated and provided the crew for the ship under a contract.

The tense standoff and daring rescue are to be depicted in a film starring Tom Hanks as Phillips, who offered himself as a hostage to the pirates in exchange for the freedom of his crew and the container ship.

The lawsuits filed by the 11 merchant seaman claim bodily injuries, among other damages. They accuse the two companies of negligence, failing to provide safe working conditions, and failing to pay injured crew members reasonable compensation for medical expenses and lost wages.

“Captain Phillips and Maersk put the men in harm’s way, in spite of warnings to keep them out of the pirate-infested waters,” said Deborah C. Waters, attorney for the crew members. “They did so for financial gain.”

In a statement sent to the Pilot, Maersk said the lawsuits are without merit.

Waterman Steamship Corp. argues that Virginia courts have no jurisdiction over the company because it is not registered to do business in Virginia.

The case isn’t expected to go to trial for a year.

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