Posted by : attorney stevelee

Battening Down the Hatches to Avoid Pirate Attack Consequences

Movies like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Pirates! Band of Misfits, as well as productions like The Pirates of Penzance glorify pirates as humorous go-getters. Unfortunately, modern day pirates—yes, they do exist—are more akin to Charles Manson than Captain Jack Sparrow.

Modern Piracy Risks

Modern ocean piracy represents a very real threat to maritime workers. Modern pirates use fully automatic assault rifles, explosives, and streamlined speedboats to employ very scary yet extremely effective attacks. Their tactics include using an armada of small speedboats to surround their prey, virtually undetected. Once close enough to the ship, they threaten to sink if the crew doesn’t imply with their demands.

Once aboard, they will:

  • Take over the ship
  • Threaten and beat crew members
  • Steal cargo
  • Ransom the ship back to the owner
  • Kidnap high-priority or useful targets (captain, engineers) for either ransom or personal use

These tactics were well-dramatized in the film Captain Phillips, which focused on the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. MV Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates. The film, although not 100% accurate, showed how pirates can (and do) violently take over ships and threaten crew members. In fact, since 2009, there have been over 2,350 pirate attacks, including documented cases of people being held for months at a time.

Guarding Against Attacks

The stabilizing influence of Somalia has drastically decreased the number of maritime pirate attacks in the waters off Africa. In fact, in 2011 there were 439 attempted hijackings, while the following year only saw 297 attacks. This significant reduction gives hope to maritime workers, but the reason for the decline isn’t solely based on the change of Somalia’s government. Increased maritime precautions have been heavily credited for the decrease in attacks as well. However, these precautions (armed guards, naval protection, emergency plans, etc.) are only effective when ship owners, operators, and fellow crew members uphold them.

Protection and Negligence

When ship owners travel through known pirate areas without taking measures to protect their vessel and its seamen, they may be acting negligently. Before a vessel departs, the owner, ship operators, and crew must do their part by…

  • Securing knowledge of high-risk areas in the world to avoid them. This is the best approach because it avoids the danger altogether.
  • Establishing a lookout on every vessel, and using radar to avoid attack. This allows the crew to identify an impending threat and take measures to mitigate the risk.
  • Striving to increase the speed of vessels in order to outrun possible attacks. Fleeing from the situation might help, through either escape or deterrence.
  • Placing materials on deck that make it more difficult for pirates to board. This can serve as a wall against being boarded and deter the escalation of an attack.
  • Concentrating on crew safety for protection against attacks. Educate the crew, and provide them the tools for safety.

Federal law allows maritime workers to recover damages from their employers when they’re the victims of ocean piracy. However, by taking certain precautions and employing tactics can limit the harm of pirate attacks or even avoid them all together.


A claim under the Jones Act can be filed by a crew member if he can provide evidence of negligence or fault on behalf of the ship operators, ship owners, or other crew members.

  • Ship operators. As many longshoremen and seamen know, the captain of a ship has a direct impact on the safety and well-being of his crew. When a captain acts negligently, his actions can mean the difference between life and death for the men and women under his command. While it is very intimidating even to consider taking legal action against your captain, if your well-being has been compromised because of his actions, you may have a solid reason to pursue a case.
  • Ship owners. Attacks by ocean pirates are foreseeable under certain circumstances. Therefore, if a ship owner does not take reasonable measures to avoid such attacks, he can be held liable for the resulting injuries to crew members.
  • Crew members. When crew members are not properly trained, r fail to execute their emergency duties when under attack, they can be held liable for any injuries that occur as a direct result of their incompetence.

Establishing liability, securing the required evidence, and composing a strong Jones Act case can be decidedly complicated—especially when you’re recovering from a traumatic attack. Allow us to give you the support, guidance, and peace of mind you need during this trying time. Contact our office today and speak with an experienced maritime lawyer. Attorney Steve Lee has helped hundreds of maritime workers protect there rights, come see what he can do for you.

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