Piracy and kidnapping on the high seas- followed by a tense standoff and a dramatic rescue. It sounds like a movie script- and the Maersk Alabama saga will become one. However, with the crew of the ship which was rescued from a Somali pirate hijacking now suing for $50 million, the script writers may have to consider a sequel.
Eleven of the Maersk Alabama’s twenty crew members have filed a lawsuit against the vessel’s owner, Maersk Line Ltd, and operator, Waterman Steamship Corp, claiming their lives were endangered through Captain Richard Phillips’ actions in the 6 April 2009 incident.
They claim Philips ignored warnings to sail at least 1100 kilometres from the Somalian coast because of risk of piracy. The crew was kidnapped by four pirates 440 kilometres southeast of the Somali port of Eyl.
The incident attracted worldwide attention when Phillips offered himself as hostage in exchange for the freedom of the crew and ship. The five day standoff was ended when elite US Navy Seal snipers killed three of the pirates and freed Philips who was then hailed a hero.
Deborah Waters, attorney for the crew members said: “Phillips and Maersk put the men in harm’s way, in spite of warnings to keep them out of the pirate-infested waters. They did so for financial gain.”
The complainants state the defendants intentionally sent the crew into a pirate infested region and failed to take adequate safety measures. They are suing for damages including permanent physical and emotional injuries, negligence, failure to provide safe working conditions, and failure to pay crew members reasonable compensation for medical expenses and lost wages.
Maersk responded in a statement describing the lawsuits as “meritless.” Waterman argued Virginia courts have no jurisdiction over the company because it is not registered in Virginia.
The ship seems prone to attack. Three further piracy incidents, including two attempted hijackings, have occurred.
With no central government for over two decades, Somalia has been ravaged by civil war and conflicts. Piracy along the country’s coastline, with foreign ships targeted and held to ransom, has thrived.
The saga, based on Phillips’ book about his experiences, will be made into a film starring Tom Hanks.
With earlier lawsuits tied up in complex litigation, the movie scheduled for release in March, and the current case not expected to be tried for a year, there may still be further twists to this turbulent tale.