What Constitutes “Mistreatment of a Crewmember” Under Maritime Law?

Written by AskTheLawyers.com™ on behalf of John H. (Jack) Hickey with Hickey Law Firm.

What Constitutes “Mistreatment of a Crewmember” Under Maritime Law?
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Maritime crewmembers have certain rights under Federal law designed to protect them from unfair treatment by vessel owners. Vessel owners in this sense could refer to the owner of a particular ship or the controlling entity of a whole line of vessels, such as a cruise line. Regardless, crewmembers are legally protected from unfair termination and retaliation by their own specific set of laws. 

The laws that govern crewmember treatment and employment among other maritime matters is referred to as maritime law, or “admiralty” law by another name. Although this set of laws shares some similarities to worker protection laws on land, it is for the most part highly unique and specific to crewmembers. If a crewmember suffered a work-related injury or illness, or experienced an unfair termination, discharge, or some form of employer retaliation, it’s important to reach out to an experienced maritime lawyer to discuss your options for correcting the situation.

The Seaman’s Protection Act is designed to protect crewmembers from mistreatment.

This Act applies to US Flag vessels and those owned by US citizens or entities controlled by US citizens; some may be surprised to learn that this Act also applies to many private yachts, even those titled in the name of offshore entities as long as those entities are primarily controlled by a US citizen. This means that crewmembers working on one of the many vessels titled in the name of a Cayman, British Virgin Island, Marshal Island, and more may be protected by this Act depending on the controlling entity.

Some of the unfair discharge, termination, and retaliation crewmembers are protected from include those for:

  • Testifying in proceedings regarding the enforcement of maritime safety law
  • Providing information regarding a violation of maritime safety law
  • Refusing to lie to the government regarding violations of maritime law
  • Refusing to carry out a requested task due to a reasonable fear of serious injury
  • Informing the vessel owner of a work-related injury or illness
  • Accurately reporting hours of duty

Crewmember mistreatment cases must typically be filed within 180 days after the event in question.

Like many aspects of maritime law, crewmember mistreatment cases are unique in that there is a tight deadline for filing the official complaint. A crewmember typically has 180 days from the alleged violation of their rights to file a complaint. Damages that could be sought in a successful complaint include back pay for wages lost, reinstatement in the former position, and may include special or even punitive damages intended to punish the violating party. 

To learn more about your rights as a crewmember, or for help filing a complaint if you suspect you have experienced mistreatment in your maritime job, reach out to an experienced maritime lawyer preferable in your port of departure.

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