OSHA Holds Maersk Line Limited Held Accountable for Whistleblower’s Firing

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has ordered Maersk Line Limited, one of the world’s leading providers of marine cargo services, to reinstate a seaman who was illegally fired after reporting several safety concerns about a company vessel to the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).

The seaman, whose name has not been disclosed, reported a variety of safety issues about the vessel Maersk Tennessee (formerly the Safmarine Mafadi), a 50,000-ton, 958-foot container ship, in December 2020. The safety concerns included:

  • Gear used to release lifeboats did not work properly and needed repair and replacement.
  • On several occasions, trainees were alone and unsupervised while on watch, including during one incident when a fuel and oil sspilled on deck, which took the crew two days to clean, and could have created an environmental spill.
  • Crew members possessing and consuming alcohol onboard.
  • Two leaks in the starboard tunnel, found during an inspection, and the bilge system caused flooding in cargo holds and needed need of repair.
  • Rusted, corroded and broken deck sockets needed repair and replacement.

Maersk responded by suspending the seaman in December 2020 and then terminating him in March 2021, for making the complaint without notifying the company first. The company also claimed that the seaman had violated its policy, which requires employees to report safety concerns to the company before contacting any external agencies.

However, OSHA determined that Maersk Line’s termination of the seaman violated the federal Seaman’s Protection Act, a law which protects the rights of seamen aboard a U.S.-registered vessel, or any vessel owned by a U.S. citizen, to report safety concerns or violations of maritime laws and to cooperate with federal officials at any time. Seamen are not required to follow any company policy that prohibits them from contacting the USCG or other federal, state, or local regulatory agencies before first notifying the company.

OSHA ordered Maersk Line to reinstate the seaman and pay $457,759 in back wages, interest, compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages (the maximum allowed by law). The company also must revise its policy to not prohibit seamen from contacting the USCG or other regulatory agencies before first notifying the company.

“Federal law protects a seaman’s right to report safety concerns to federal regulatory agencies, a fact every maritime industry employer and vessel owner must know,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Eric S. Harbin in Dallas. “Failure to recognize these rights can instill a culture of intimidation that could lead to disastrous or deadly consequences. The order underscores our commitment to enforcing whistleblower rights that protect seamen.”

The USCG also expressed its support for OSHA’s findings and actions. “The U.S. Coast Guard is committed to partnering with OSHA in protecting whistleblowers and to vigorously enforce the Seaman’s Protection Act. We encourage everyone within the maritime domain to support and abide by these protections,” said Rear Admiral and Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy for the USCG Wayne Arguin.

Maersk Line has not yet commented on OSHA’s order or indicated whether it will appeal. The company has faced other lawsuits and allegations of misconduct in recent years, such as sexual assault of a female cadet, gambling sponsorships in international cricket, and container detention charges in India.


We at the Herd Law Firm are proud to fight for maritime workers and passengers in all types of personal injury claim or other , and never waver in our commitment to help these maritime workers and their families when they are wronged or injured.


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