- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 28, 2009

HOUSTON (AP) | A member of the crew on the U.S.-flagged ship hijacked by African pirates sued the owner and another company Monday, accusing them of knowingly putting sailors in danger.

Richard E. Hicks says in the lawsuit that owner Maersk Line Ltd. and Waterman Steamship Corp., which provided the crew, ignored requests to improve safety measures for vessels sailing along the Somali coast.

Mr. Hicks was chief cook on the Maersk Alabama. Pirates held the ship’s captain hostage for five days until the U.S. Navy rescued him. The lawsuit seeks at least $75,000 in damages and improved safety.

Officials for Norfolk-based Maersk Line and Mobile, Ala.-based Waterman said their companies don’t comment on pending litigation.

Mr. Hicks asked that the two companies improve safety for ships by providing armed security or allowing crew members to carry weapons, sending ships through safer routes and placing such safety measures on ships as 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,” he said. “I’m just trying to make sure this is a lot better for other seamen.”

Mr. Hicks also asked the two companies pay at least $75,000 in damages, saying he doesn’t know whether 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 Mr. Hicks, who has worked 32 years as a merchant seaman.

“We think [the companies] should be more concerned about the personnel on their ships than the profits the companies make,” said Terry Bryant, Mr. Hicks’ attorney.

Both companies do business in Texas, which is why the lawsuit was filed in Houston, he said.

Pirates took over the Alabama on April 8 before Capt. Richard Phillips surrendered himself in exchange for the safety of his 19-member crew. The captain was taken on a lifeboat and held hostage for five days before U.S. Navy SEAL snipers on the destroyer USS Bainbridge killed three of his captors and freed him.

Mr. Hicks said crew members have been trained on what to do if pirates or others threaten the ship.

“We need more than training,” said the 53-year-old, who lives in Royal Palm Beach, Fla., and has two grown sons. “I never thought nothing like this would ever happen.”

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