Maersk Alabama crew member sues over safety issues
HOUSTON - Ken Quinn is rooting for Richard E. Hicks, his fellow Maersk Alabama shipmate who is suing two shipping companies for failing to heed crew safety warnings. Though he is not sure Hicks will win, Quinn said that at the very least, decision makers might side with Hicks. "It might force companies to put on a Blackwater security team or mercenaries or armed guards," said Quinn, who recently returned to his home in Bradenton after spending about a dozen harrowing hours on a ship boarded by armed pirates. Quinn said he first heard about a potential lawsuit on the ship."I heard some talk," said Quinn. "He said it when we were down below, waiting down in the room with pirates aboard, when we were sitting in the hot, sweltering room suffering from heat exhaustion. There are always guys on the crew who might sue. There might be more as time goes by." Quinn said he will not sue. Hicks, the chief cook on board the Maersk Alabama, alleges in his lawsuit that Maersk Line Limited, which owns the ship, and Waterman Steamship Corp., which provided the crew, ignored requests from sailors to improve safety measures for ships traveling through pirate-infested waters off the Somali coast. Hicks asked the two companies improve safety for ships by providing armed security or allowing crew members to carry weapons. He also asked that they send ships through safer routes and place safety measures on ships like barbed wire that would prevent pirates from being able to board vessels. "We've had safety meetings every month for the last three years and made suggestions of what should be done and they have been ignored," Hicks said. "I'm just trying to make sure this is a lot better for other seamen." Hicks also asked the two companies pay at least $75,000 in damages, saying he doesn't know if he will ever work on a ship again. "My family is not looking forward to me going back out to sea. But I'm not sure if I'm going back. I'm still nervous, leery. I might find something else to do,'' said Hicks, who has worked for 32 years as a merchant seaman. Officials for Norfolk, Va. based-Maersk Line and Mobile, Ala.-based Waterman both said their companies don't comment on pending litigation. "We think (the companies) should be more concerned about the personnel on their ships than the profits the companies make," said Terry Bryant, Hicks' attorney. Both companies do business in Texas, which is why the suit was filed in Houston, he said. Quinn said that while he is not sure Hicks has a case, he agrees that merchant marines should be armed when traveling through pirate-infested water. He said he would like to see a situation similar to the Maritime Administration, a federal seafaring transportation system for which he also sails. Crews on those ships have armed security details, weapons lockers and sailors trained to use small arms. One rationale for not allowing sailors to be armed is that many nations do not allow crews to have weapons. Quinn has a solution. "If we have to shoot, then the Navy can pick up that sailor before we get into port," he said. For his own part, Quinn said he has been certified to use weapons for seven years and is prepared to use them. Mike Perry, the ship's chief engineer from Riverview, said in an interview last week that he, too, is prepared to use weapons, is willing to continue his training and that ships should have armed crews. Quinn doesn't agree with everything about the lawsuit. Barbed wire, for one, has the potential to be more dangerous to the crew than pirates, he said. And the suit might mean the end of American-flagged shipping in that part of the world. The suit comes at an interesting time. Quinn is going to make the case for arms aboard ships himself Tuesday night in Washington at the International Propeller Club dinner. In addition to members of the crew, maybe even including captain Richard Phillips, the dinner will be attended by lawmakers, military personnel, shippers and a representative from the executive branch. He said he will tell guests the same thing he is telling his friends on ships now cruising through pirate infested waters who are calling him asking for advice. Arm the ships, he said. "If I can speak at this dinner," he said, "there are a lot of people who will listen."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Editor Howard Altman can be reached at (813) 259-7629