OSHA holds Maersk Line Limited responsible for firing a whistleblower Ship’s crew

The US Department of Labor has found that Maersk Line Limited (MLL), the US-flagged shipping arm of Danish conglomerate AP Moller-Maersk, violated whistleblower provisions of the Seaman’s Protection Act by suspending and later firing a seaman who reported safety concerns to the US Coast Guard.

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has ordered MLL to reinstate the seaman and pay $457,759 in arrears of wages, interest and damages, and $250,000 in punitive damages.

The Seaman’s Protection Act allows seafarers to report safety concerns or violations of maritime laws directly to the USCG at any time and to cooperate with federal officials, regardless of company policy.

“Federal law protects a seafarer’s right to report safety concerns to federal regulators, a fact that every employer in the shipping industry and every ship owner needs to know,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Eric S. Harbin in Dallas. “Failure to recognize these rights can create a culture of intimidation that could have disastrous or fatal consequences. The order underscores our commitment to enforcing whistleblower rights to protect seafarers.”

OSHA investigators learned that the seaman had reported safety concerns about MLL’s container ship Safmarine Fadi to the U.S. Coast Guard in December 2020, including problems with lifeboat equipment, unsupervised trainees leaking fluids, leaks in the starboard tunnel causing flooding, and rusted and corroded deck receptacles that needed repair. The seafarers also reported that the crew members had consumed alcohol.

Maersk responded by suspending the seaman later that month and firing him in March 2021 for filing the complaint without notifying the company in advance.

“The US Coast Guard is committed to working with OSHA to protect whistleblowers and to vigorously enforce the Seaman’s Protection Act. We encourage everyone in the maritime community to support and comply with these safeguards,” said Wayne Arguin, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral and deputy commander, Prevention Policy.

Maersk Line Limited, headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia, is the largest US-flagged fleet in commercial service and is a subsidiary of AP Moeller-Maersk, a global provider of ocean transportation, logistics services and terminal operations based in Denmark. The company employs around 700 US seafarers.

The case underscores the importance of whistleblower protection for seafarers and the need for a transparent safety culture in the maritime industry.

In addition to paying back pay and wages, MLL must also change its policy to allow seafarers to contact regulators before notifying the company.

OSHA enforces whistleblower regulations for over 20 laws that protect employees who report violations of various occupational health and safety, environmental, financial reform, and other laws.

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