More than half the crew aboard the Maersk Alabama when it was attacked by Somali pirates in April 2009 have filed lawsuits against Maersk Line Ltd., the U.S. subsidiary of A.P. Moller-Maersk that owns and operates the container ship, and Waterman Steamship, which operated and crewed it.
Though the master of the ship, Capt. Richard Phillips, was hailed as a hero, 11 former crewmembers allege in lawsuits filed in Norfolk Circuit Court and in Mobile, Ala., that his employers, through Phillips' actions, put them in grave danger when the ship sailed within about 250 miles of the Somali coast despite warnings to stay at least 600 miles out because of pirate activity, according to The Virginian-Pilot.
"Capt. 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 crewmembers, the paper said. "They did so for financial gain."
Phillips is not named in the lawsuits, filed in courts in Norfolk and Mobile, Ala. The newspaper said it could not reach him for comment.
The suits seek nearly $50 million in damages from Norfolk-based Maersk Line Ltd. and Alabama-based Waterman Steamship.
Among other things, the lawsuits filed by the 11 mariners claim bodily injuries and an array of 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.
Both companies deal with U.S.-flag vessels, so crewmembers generally must be U.S. citizens. The 20 crewmembers aboard the Maersk Alabama at the time of the hijacking were from nine states and Canada, according to court records filed by Waterman.
In a statement sent to the Pilot, Maersk said the lawsuits are without merit.
Waterman Steamship argues that Virginia courts have no jurisdiction over the company because it is not registered to do business in Virginia.
No hearings have been scheduled yet in the case, which isn't expected to go to trial for a year.
Meanwhile, a new movie about the hijacking starring Tom Hanks as Phillips is tentatively scheduled for release in March.