Seafarer Claim in Court Regarding Fatigue

A recent court ruling in Florida Miami where the maritime law firm Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. representing Chief Mate William Skye against Maersk for excessive dangerous working conditions, sets a legal precedent, leaving shipowners to face legal actions from seafarers who believe that working conditions onboard have affected their overall health.

Screenshot from Cardiff University Seafarers’ fatigue film trailer

Plaintiff William Skye, 57, was working as Chief Mate onboard a Maersk vessel for a period of four years. During these years the Chief Mate was assigned to duties which violated the STCW hours of work/rest. According to Mr. Skye his daily program involved 15.75 hours of work per day, which is also a violation of relevant US regulations.

As a result of the above the Chief Mate was lacking consistent and uninterrupted sleep, which is an important factor contributing to a seafarer’s fatigue, and consequently lead to Mr. Skye developing a heart condition leading him to an early retirement.

Furthermore, two former Maersk employees testified that the intensity of the duties related to the position of the Chief Mate, made it very difficult if not impossible to fulfill all tasks without taking overtime.

The jury concluded on a $2.36 million verdict but assessed 75 percent comparative negligence to the Chief Mate which reduced the award to $590,000. The jury also found that Skye would be able to work for another 10 years if his condition was not worsened due to excessive workload. Finally the jury did not find that Maersk had violated any work/rest regulations.

For more information regarding the case please click in the following link:

This case draws once more the attention to the working conditions onboard merchant vessels and on whether the actual works of hours/rest required by STCW and other national regulations are actually implemented. Fatigue is continuing to be either the main cause or a contributory factor in the worsening of a seafarer’s health, not to mention the considerable number of casualties at sea which were the result of fatigue due to overwork.

Sleep is basic for our health and no matter how we try we cannot train ourselves to override it, even if that means less overtime hours. Fatigue occurs when the balance is lost between physical and mental effort when awake, and the need to recover from that effort. Most people can get by on 6 hours of undisturbed sleep per night for a few nights, before the pressure for sleep increases to risky levels.

Going for a few nights without enough sleep affects the way a person’s brain functions. Not getting enough sleep leads to:

  1. feeling sleepier – eventually involuntary lapses into sleep begin to occur
  2. difficulty staying alert
  3. getting irritable
  4. slower reactions
  5. poorer co-ordination
  6. slower thinking
  7. getting fixated on part of a problem and losing the big picture
  8. less creative problem-solving
  9. lower standard of performance becoming acceptable
  10. performance becoming increasingly inconsistent.

Moreover, sleep deprivation affects the way a person’s body functions. In experiments that restrict the sleep of healthy young adults for 2-6 nights:

  1. appetite increases, because of a decrease in the hormone (leptin) that makes people feel full, and an increase in a hormone (ghrelin) that increases appetite. This suggests that people who regularly miss out on sleep are more likely to put on weight.
  2. the body becomes less able to handle glucose (it starts to become resistant to insulin). This suggests that people who regularly miss out on sleep may be more likely to end up with type II diabetes.
  3. the body’s ability to fight infection decreases. This suggests that people who regularly miss out on sleep are more likely to pick up infections in wounds, or get sick with things like colds and flu.
  4. Other studies show that sleep restriction causes changes that could lead to high blood pressure in people who regularly miss out on sleep.

Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Safe Sease comentado:
    This legal battle involving the limits of fatigue may well become a landmark case…

  2. Bothered Seafarer says:

    On Aug 20 2013, the MLC2006 will come into force. The seafarers onboard who until now worked odd and long hours should now stand up for their rightful rest. But, who’s listening!!!!!!!!!!

    The IMO, Flag States, Port States, Classification societies, ILO, ITF and local affiliated Maritime Unions, Owners, Charterers and Ship Managers have FAILED the seafarer collectively and singularly.

    They very conveniently pass the buck onto the ship’s Captain, who is put on a ceremonial pedestal by all, given over-riding authority under the ISM and ISPS codes, in name only, but who truly speaking has no power and is everyone’s whore, if you understand the context correctly, but is responsible to ensure that all onboard maintain their rest hours. Given the number, and, quality of crew onboard these days the poor bloke cannot manage his own rest hours effectively, let alone that of others, and everyone works over and above the required hours.

    After all, he’s required to be on the Bridge when at sea during restricted visibility, high traffic density, pilotage, heavy weather and during port-stays always on-call from charterers, agents, PSC, Flag state, Vetting Inspectors, Stevedores, Chandlers and suppliers, Owners and Managers.

    Has anyone spared a thought for the Master’s own rest hours criteria being fulfilled?

    The work schedule put up on ships for all onboard as part of the requirement is just another “Decorative Piece” to adorn the ship’s bulkheads, and is lost among so many such posters required to be shown to the innumerable inspectors, who ask for it, with a prayer on the lips that it and the ship’s log-books will not be scrutinized under a hi-powered microscope.

    Earlier, under pressure from the Ship Managers to restrict over-times, the crew forsook their genuine hard-earned monies by falsifying their work/rest records just so that the Ships Managers were kept happy and they got to keep their job and returned back after leave to work on another ship.

    The crew today are confused because they are now told not to falsify their work/rest records and yet they still have to stay within the stipulated work hours so that their rest hours are not violated.

    A Catch-22 situation!

    The poor Ship’s Captain has one more tight-rope to walk and should he trip, or slip, he falls into the bottomless abyss. Surely he can take a stand on behalf of his crew and his own rest-hours, but then he can only look forward to an unceremonious send off with a kick-in-the-butt from the next port, a one-way ticket home and no more employment in the company. Sadly, the rest of the crew will not be affected as they will continue to be employed, but the master will be made the scape-goat.

    He cannot stop the ship just for fulfilling rest hours, though infact he should to get the ex-seafarers, now sitting ashore, and singing a different tune, and land-lubbers to wake up and stop being hypocrites. If he were to stop the ship in port and insist on fulfilling the rest-hours criteria all hell in the form of telephone calls from the Ship Managers, Owners, Charterers, Port Officials will open up to swallow him.

    So, the moot question is, “Should he stick his neck out for others?”

    Seafarers the world over have to come together to tell the IMO, ILO, ITF and local Maritime Unions, Flag states, Port States, Classification societies, Owners, Charterers and Ship Managers that enough is enough and the ship does not leave the berth and will not sail until all onboard are rested.

    The guys ashore, ex-seafarers and land-lubbers sitting in plush offices world over need to have a paradigm shift in their way of thinking and give to the seafarers their rightful dues which in any case are long overdue. The time has come for the seafarer to encash the cheque which has bounced so often.

    For centuries the seafarer, without raising his voice to be heard by all and sundry in the outside world, has followed the tradition that the ship must be in port for the shortest period of time and at sea at all costs to earn money and has given up on rest periods.

    The Port States are waking up today, and, by going through the records, recording deficiencies when found but they are not yet taking the extreme step of delaying the ship to enforce the rest hours. They too blame the Master and the best advice they offer is “It’s up to you and the Owner / Manager?”

    The Flag States are the worst-off of the whole pack mentioned above. The “Minimum Safe Manning” certificate they issue to the ship stipulates ridiculously low manning levels and even though the Owners / Managers augment the minimum required levels by 50% or more, the total number of crews onboard are yet not enough for everyone to have their rest-hours criteria fulfilled.

    Solutions:
    AA.
    During vessel’s coasting, first port to last port, duplicate the number of critical Management levels onboard – Master, Chief Mate, Chief Engineer, 1st Engineer, Electrical officer. Further, augment the Operational levels also with an additional Mate, an Engineer and an Electrical Petty Officer. At the crew levels, double up the Able-Bodied seamen and the Motormen.

    BB.
    The entire ship’s sea-going complement be sent off to the nearest motel and a dedicated shore-crew take over for all the port operations.

    CC.
    Employ robots, remote controlled from the office of the vessel’s Managers / Owners. Imagine the benefits, no overheads for salaries and meals, no Loss Time Injuries, no illness, no medicines, no expenses on crew recreation, no crew changes, no agency fees for crew changes, no deviations and off-hires as a consequence. Are not the owner’s complaining that the highest expenditure is that of the seafarer’s salary and meals. Voila, problem solved with one-felled stroke!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Anything else proposed, other than the the above three solutions is just wishful thinking.

    Seafarers, this is your page. Voice your thoughts. Share your experiences. Standup to make the difference you want in your rest hours. We have grumbled for far too long on this burning issue. Don’t let the ex-seafarers and land-lubbers take you for a ride anymore. Encash that cheque. Now!

    After all, the ISM code now in place in the shipping industry is an off-shoot from the airline industry. We, in the shipping industry, have a lot to learn from the airline industry, particularly so on the rest-hours issue.

    When you are together and speak in one voice the deaf world will have to listen.

    Anybody listening!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • I am a sociologist working on the political economy of workload and manning issues, and I found your strongly stated comment very much in line with my interviews and study of the topic. It seems like you have a lot of experience underlying your perspective, and wonder if there is a way to get in contact with you directly to ask you some more specific questions about the development of trends over the last decade and the time associated with various tasks? Not sure how to do that on/through this blog. Your assistance appreciated.
      — Sociologist

  3. Bothered Seafarer says:

    Chief Mate William Skye did the right thing by taking the company to court. Many more such instances and only then will those sitting in plush offices wake up to the real fatigue problems we seafarers face.

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