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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Maersk Ordered to Pay Seaman it Fired for Reporting Safety Issues

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

July 20, 2023

Maersk Line Limited has been ordered to pay more than $700,000 and reinstate a seafarer it fired for reporting safety concerns about a company vessel to the U.S. Coast Guard.

A federal whistleblower investigation determined that the company—a U.S. subsidiary of Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller - Maersk—illegally suspended and terminated a seafarer who reported safety concerns about the U.S.-flagged containership Safmarine Mafadi to the Coast Guard in December 2020.

Among the safety concerns, the seaman reported a gear used to release lifeboats did not work properly; rusted, corroded and broken deck sockets; and two leaks in the starboard tunnel and the bilge system caused flooding in cargo holds. In addition, on several occasions, a ship’s trainee was alone and unsupervised while on watch, including during one incident when a fuel and oil spill occurred. The mariner also reported crew members possessing and possibly consuming alcohol on board.

Maersk responded by suspending the seaman in December 2020 and then terminating them in March 2021, for making the complaint without notifying the company first.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) determined Maersk Line’s termination of the seaman violated the federal Seaman’s Protection Act, which allows seafarers to report concerns directly to the Coast Guard without having to follow any company policy that requires employees to report first to the company. The law protects the rights of seamen aboard a U.S.-registered vessel, or any vessel owned by a U.S. citizen to report safety concerns or violations of maritime laws and to cooperate with federal officials at any time.

OSHA ordered Maersk Line to reinstate the seaman and pay $457,759 in back wages, interest, compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages. The company must also revise its policy to not prohibit seamen from contacting the Coast Guard or other federal, state or local regulatory agencies before first notifying the company.

“Federal law protects a seaman’s right to report safety concerns to federal regulatory agencies, a fact every maritime industry employer and vessel owner must know,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Eric S. Harbin in Dallas. “Failure to recognize these rights can instill a culture of intimidation that could lead to disastrous or deadly consequences. The order underscores our commitment to enforcing whistleblower rights that protect seamen.”

“The U.S. Coast Guard is committed to partnering with OSHA in protecting whistleblowers and to vigorously enforce the Seaman’s Protection Act. We encourage everyone within the maritime domain to support and abide by these protections,” said Rear Admiral and Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy for the U.S. Coast Guard Wayne Arguin. “An open and transparent safety culture within the maritime industry is vital to protecting the lives of mariners and the public. Together, we can make the maritime workplace safe for everyone.”