On Monday, September 17, 2018, at 3:00AM UTC, the modern product tanker STI Hammersmith (built in 2015, owned and operated by Scorpio) was attacked and robbed by four armed pirates off the coast of Guinea, in West Africa, while anchored near Conakry. No crew members were injured during the attack.
According to reports, the pirates used a small boat to approach the tanker at night and thereby evade detection. They subsequently boarded the vessel. Leadership aboard STI Hammersmith immediately sounded the alarms and gathered crew in the safety afforded by the ship citadel. Crew accommodations were locked, but the pirates were well-equipped to respond, and fired automatic rounds at the bridge windows, shattering them and thereby securing a makeshift entry-point into the accommodations.
A navy vessel arrived on the scene to assist crew, but it was too late. The pirates evaded capture and got away with the targeted assets. Though the robbery was successful, all crew members aboard STI Hammersmith were reported safe, and tanker operations have continued without further delay.
We are relieved to hear that crew aboard STI Hammersmith are safe and were able to avoid direct confrontation with the pirates by gathering in the citadel and notifying nearby naval authorities. STI Hammersmith leadership acted immediately and effectively to protect crew aboard the vessel, but the ease with which the pirate attack was conducted makes us concerned about the security deficiencies of the tanker operator, Scorpio.
It is not clear whether the tanker at-issue was equipped with the necessary security equipment to minimize the risk of a pirate attack. Further, given that the ship had plotted a route through heavily pirated waters, it is arguable that Scorpio should have hired security personnel to protect the vessel from such attacks, or perhaps trained and equipped crew members with weapons necessary to do so.
Had the pirates managed to injure any crew members, it’s likely that the injured individual would have an actionable claim against their employer for damages.
Vessel Owners Must Provide a Safe Working Environment for Crew Members
Under the Jones Act, vessel owners must provide a reasonably safe working environment for their seamen employees. Though this has obvious applications in the context of basic crew member safety (i.e., fire hazard protection, adequate emergency procedures, etc.), the provision of a safe working environment also applies in the context of pirate attacks, such as the present case.
Given the risk of pirate attacks in certain regions, vessel operators whose shipping routes move through such regions must invest the resources necessary to implement adequate safety equipment and procedures — this may include surveillance cameras, secure communication protocols, defense training and weapons, and more. Where possible, shipping routes should also be coordinated to avoid hotspots for pirate activity. Further, vessel operators may need to hire professional security personnel to serve on ships that are at particular risk of an attack.
Failure to provide a safe working environment could expose the vessel operator to significant civil liability. Crew members who sustain injuries in a pirate attack may be entitled to bring an action under the Jones Act for damages that include pain and suffering, property loss, medical expenses, emotional distress, wage loss, and more.
We Can Assist You
Modern piracy is a very real problem affecting today’s maritime industry. Though many mistakenly view pirates as a sort of pop-culture caricature, modern pirates use sophisticated methods for injecting themselves into insecure communication channels, identifying vulnerable vessels, and mounting a multi-front attack designed to inflict terror on crew members.
If you are a crew member on a tanker or other cargo vessel, then you may be entitled to significant damages in the event that you are harmed during a pirate attack. You’ll want to work with a qualified maritime lawyer who understands how to effectively navigate the complexities of Jones Act litigation and who has extensive experience handling seaman injury claims relating to pirate attacks.
Here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A., our attorneys bring to bear over a century of combined experience representing crew members in maritime and admiralty disputes against their employers, including those that involve injuries sustained in pirate attacks that could have been prevented. We understand the Jones Act, and how to proceed with litigation so as to maximize compensation on your behalf.
Most pirate attacks take place in international waters, in foreign shipping “hot spots” that operators know to avoid (or to otherwise exercise great care when moving through). Those who suffer injuries in international waters may worry about their ability to secure compensation for their losses, but here at Lipcon, we have successfully litigated claims in courtrooms worldwide.
If you’d like to discuss your potential maritime injury claims, we encourage you to contact us for assistance today. An experienced maritime lawyer will speak to you about your claims and will evaluate the possibility of legal action against your employer for damages.