A Federal Judge has threatened to ban Princess Carnival cruise ships from U.S. ports starting in June. Last week, U.S. District Judge Patricia A. Seitz reprimanded the cruise ship company for violations of a $40 million settlement she imposed two years ago for deliberately dumping oil contaminated waste overboard and falsification of official logs in order to conceal these discharges. The offenses might never have come to light if it hadn’t been for the evidence provided by an engineer aboard one of the vessels.
If you are a seaman who is aware of unsafe conditions aboard your vessel, it’s your duty to report such conditions before they result in an injury or death.
When the owners of a vessel deliberately break the law and place a vessel’s crew, its passengers and the surrounding environment at risk, they deserve to be punished to the full extent of the law.
The seamen working aboard these vessels may be aware of the violations but are often reluctant to come forward because they fear reprisal by their employers. Many are afraid that they won’t just lose their jobs, but be placed on a “blacklist” that will prevent them from finding employment onboard another vessel.
The Seaman’s Protection Act
Seamen who report violations of the law and other regulations are protected from retaliation by the Seaman’s Protection Act (SPA).The SPA was enacted as part of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 1984 and protects seaman against discrimination by an owner, charterer, managing operator, agent, master, or individual in charge of a vessel when a seaman reports or intends to report a safety violation aboard a vessel to the Coast Guard or other federal agency or department.
Discrimination can include termination, demotion, blacklisting, disciplining, reduction in hours, intimidation, reassignment and denial of overtime pay, promotions or benefits.
The act also protects seaman who have refused to perform duties ordered by their employer because they have a reasonable apprehension or expectation that performing such duties would result in serious injury to the seaman, other seamen, or the public.
Filing an SPA Complaint
A seaman who believes they have been retaliated against in violation of the SPA may file a complaint with OSHA. Complaints must be filed no later than 180 days after the alleged unfavorable employment action occurred.
If the evidence supports a seaman’s claim of retaliation and a voluntary settlement cannot be reached, OSHA will issue an order requiring reinstatement, as well as other possible relief to make the seaman whole, including:
- Payment of back pay with interest.
- Compensation for special damages, including attorney’s fees and other expenses the seaman may have incurred as a result of the violation.
- Punitive damages of up to $250,000
In the Princess Cruise Lines case, the judge awarded $1 million to the engineer who first reported the illegal discharges.
“Without the courageous act of a junior crew member to alert authorities to these criminal behaviors of deliberately dumping oil at sea, the global environmental damage caused by the Princess fleet could have been much worse,” said Rear Adm. Scott Buschman, commander of the USCG Seventh District. “The selflessness of this individual exposed five different ships that embraced a culture of shortcuts, and I am pleased at this outcome.”
Don’t Be Afraid To Speak Up If You See Something Wrong
If you are a cruise ship worker who is aware of any deliberate violations of maritime law or other regulations aboard your vessel, don’t be afraid to seek help. The Seaman’s Protection Act and other laws protect seamen whistleblowers who choose to do the right thing. Lambert Zainey is dedicated to supporting seamen who feel they must take action when they are ordered to do something they know is wrong.
If you are unsure of how to proceed or fear retaliation for being a whistleblower, know that you aren’t alone. We have represented clients across the United States in whistleblower cases and other maritime litigation. Contact us today to speak with one of our experienced maritime attorneys about your case.
If you have information you would like to share with the Coast Guard or other government agencies, or have been terminated or subjected to other forms of retaliation for being a maritime whistleblower, contact us today for legal assistance.