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November 27th, 2009

DOT: Shipping Companies Must Take Precautions to Thwart Pirate Attacks

In the wake of a recent attack on the Maersk Alabama off the coast of Somalia, . Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is warning shipping companies about the need to take necessary safety precautions to prevent or foil such attacks.

According to Secretary LaHood, the failed attacks on the Maersk Alabama and  the MV-Harriett shows it’s possible to thwart pirate attacks and keep ships and crews safe, if a shipping company follows “best” safe practices. In his words –

“Mariners should heed lessons learned from past attacks and review defensive measures, so that they are prepared when traveling through high-threat areas.”

This month, pirates attacked the MV Harriett, but that vessel was able to foil the attack by accelerating speeds and outrunning the pirate vessel. Last week, armed gangs fired at the Maersk Alabama, the second attack on the ship this year.  Luckily, there was no repeat of the four-day long nightmare that played out in April, when the 20-member crew of the ship was in danger of their lives. This time private security teams fired back at the pirates, preventing them from boarding the ship.

In September, the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration had warned vessels to reroute their ships to avoid pirate-infested waters. The Maritime Administration also recommended that shipping companies take other necessary steps for their own self defense. While the pirate-infested waters are now being patrolled by naval ships, these will not be able to rush to help a ship under attack. Therefore, the Maritime Administration had recommended that shipping companies take all preventable measures to foil such attacks.

As maritime lawyers, we hope that shipping companies will move quickly to arm their ships with private security teams. Crew members on vessels are not trained to handle pirate attacks, and left on their own on a cargo-laden ship, are soft targets for these armed gangs. Unfortunately, not all shipping companies have acted to equip their vessels with armed security teams, nor have they adopted rerouting to avoid dangerous waters.

The maritime attorneys at Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P., Accident & Injury Lawyers are trial attorneys representing crew members of cargo ships, commercial fishing vessel crew members, barge and tugboat operators, cruise liner crews, offshore rig workers, jack-up rig workers, tanker and freighter crews and other workers who qualify for Jones Act seaman status, in injury and wrongful death litigation.

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