Jones Act – What to Do in the Event of a Pirate Attack

Working as a Mariner is a dangerous job where you often contend with heavy seas, hazardous weather, shifting cargo, wet and slippery decks and vessels of questionable seaworthiness. Add to that the threat of pirates, and it’s a wonder anyone ever steps off the land and onto a commercial vessel. With certain precautions in place and a clever captain, the vessel can be steered to safety and leave the pirates in its wake. Unfortunately, the incidence of pirate attacks is on the rise and thousands of mariners are affected each year.

While maritime law protects mariners in the event that they are injured by pirates, there are a number of strategies that you can employ to increase your chances of surviving a pirate attack and getting to safety. Following the guidelines set down in the BMPs (Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy) is a great place to start in preparing for a pirate attack.

Keep a Weather Eye Out

When venturing into known pirate waters, the single best thing you can do is to keep vigilant watches, both on deck and via radar and/or CCTV. Pirates typically attack at dawn and dusk, when the light is low. They usually take mariners by surprise as they roar up in fast skiffs, sometimes firing semi-automatic weapons onto the deck. In those reported incidents where an attack was avoided, it was usually because mariners saw the pirates and sounded an alarm.

Initialize Deterrents

If pirates are closing range on your vessel, the first step after sounding the alarm is to bring engines to full and maneuver aggressively to create substantial wake. During this time, you should also ensure that the bridge and engine rooms are fortified and all entry points secured. Additional deterrents that can be utilized include:

  • deploying razor wire along the freeboard to prevent boarding
  • engaging high-powered water or foam cannons
  • using long-range acoustic devices, active denial systems or other non-lethal deterrent devices

Send Out Mayday Transmissions

As soon as pirate activity is noticed, it is a good idea to send out a mayday signal on channels 16 and 8 to alert local authorities to the situation. If the vessel is equipped with DSC or Inmarsat-C technology, those may be engaged as well. Ensure AIS is also on so that law enforcement may track your position.

Get to Safety

All vessels that have the potential to be traveling in waters where pirates are known to attack should have procedures that include muster stations and citadels where the crew can gather and get to safety somewhere onboard.

If captured by a pirate, it is best to comply with their demands until rescued.

Jones Act Protections After Pirate Attacks

The Jones Act and other maritime law provisions provide compensation for mariners injured by pirate encounters. As a qualified seaman, you are entitled to:

  • Maintenance and cure benefits – payments for medical, transportation and living expenses while injured. You need not prove negligence on the part of your employer.
  • Sue your employer for negligence – this is a benefit not afforded to land-based employees, who must utilize workers’ compensation programs with limited damages. A negligence suit opens you up to compensation for past and future medical bills, lost wages, pain, and suffering and emotional distress.

Escaping a pirate attack alive can be an emotionally taxing ordeal. The Jones Act helps ensure that your needs are taken care of when you are injured in service of your vessel.

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