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U.S. Department of Labor Determines Maersk Line Limited Illegally Retaliated Against Seaman

Company ordered to reinstate employee, pay more than $700K in back wages, damages

A federal whistleblower investigation has determined that Maersk Line Limited — one of the world’s leading providers of marine cargo services — suspended and terminated a seaman illegally after the seaman reported numerous safety concerns about a company vessel to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined Maersk Line’s termination of the seaman violated the federal Seaman’s Protection Act. Seaman may report concerns directly to the USCG and are not required 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 the 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 USCG or other federal, state or local regulatory agencies before first notifying the company.

Investigators learned the seaman reported a variety of safety concerns about the vessel Safmarine Mafadi — a 50,000-ton, 958-foot container ship — to the U.S. Coast Guard in December 2020. The safety concerns included the following:

  • Gear used to release lifeboats did not work properly and needed repair and replacement;
  • On several occasions, a ship’s trainee was alone and unsupervised while on ship’s watch, including during one incident when a fuel and oil spill occurred that took the crew two days to clean, and could have created an environmental spill;
  • Crew members possessing and possibly consuming alcohol onboard;
  • Two leaks in the starboard tunnel, found during an inspection, and the bilge system caused flooding in cargo holds and needed need of repair; and
  • Rusted, corroded and broken deck sockets needed repair and replacement.

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.

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