The Need for the Maritime Law Jones Act

Need for the Maritime Jones Act

The seamen’s life is very stressful as he is under tremendous pressure at sea. This is coupled with the perils of the seas, continuous rolling, and demanding work hours with a strict hierarchical working environment where he cannot quit and go home. At sea there is no substitute or time-out, and a voyage has to be completed no matter how you feel or you are. Many times the ship is un-seaworthy and unsafe, but you have to work to keep it running as you are far away from land and in rough seas- for your own life’s sake.

Historically before 1920s, when seamen’s rights were recognized by a series of law enacted along with the Maritime Law Jones Act, they were discriminated against and had poor working and living conditions. Any death, disability, or injury suffered by the seamen carried no compensation and if there was any recompense, it happened at the wishes of the ship owner. The crew was over worked and was at a risk of personal injuries as the working conditions were not safe.

As ships would stay for long times at port where the crew would sign off or run away to greener pastures, the owners were desperate to get new hands. This would often lead to crew supplied by deception or coercion and often in an unconscious state with forged signatures after a drink at a shady bar.

All these and a need to have a strong American Merchant Marine led to the enactment of the Maritime Law Jones act of 1920. The Jones act is named after Senator Wesley L. Jones of Washington who introduced this law to safeguard the interests of merchant seamen and of the American merchant shipping industry. The two primary parts of the law are firstly the right to sue the employers by merchant seamen for injuries suffered due to negligence of owners, Captain, or colleagues. Secondly the coastal shipping interests were protected by only allowing American ships to do coastal voyages.

Unsafe Hold Cleaning with Chemicals by Seamen

Unsafe Hold Cleaning with no ventilation

The Jones Act on Seamen’s Welfare

The seaman’s rights that have been ensured are the right to sue in case the ship is un-seaworthy and injuries are suffered due to negligence. The compensation that a seaman is authorized includes maintenance and cure, lost wages, and personal injury benefits. The meaning of “maintenance” is that a seaman is entitled to the boarding and lodging that he would have got on the ship had he not been injured, along with a minimum daily allowance. “Cure” means that he has to be treated on the expenses of the owners till he reaches a state of maximum medical improvement. By the term “lost wages,” it means that the seaman must be compensated for the wages he would have earned until the end of his contract that have been lost due to the injury. Also future lost wages are covered as the time taken him for recovery from his injuries will prevent him from going to work. Personal injury benefits include vocational training costs, rehabilitation costs, pain and suffering, disability, and loss of the quality of life.

In brief the seaman is entitled to compensation on the following grounds based on the Jones act: past and future lost wages, past and future medical treatment, future loss of earning, rehabilitation costs, prosthetics, past and future pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement, impairment, and past and future loss of quality of life.

The Jones Act on Shipping Interests

The Jones law is also a cabotage law that seeks to prevent the interests of the American shipping industry by enforcing that ships on coastal American voyages must be American built in American shipyards, by an American work force and operated by at least three-fourths American crewmen. This ensures business to shipyards, workers, etc. Also in case of any ship repair in foreign ports when a ship calls on ports outside US, the repair is to be limited to only ten percent of the steel work based on the weight of the ship. By not allowing foreign flagged ships to operate on coastal voyages, it protects the interests of American seamen, sailors, and workers involved in the shipping industry.



Image Credit

Image by Mohit Sanguri, Chief Engineer. The image shows that non-American merchant seamen have been forced to clean the cargo holds with chemicals with the hatch covers closed and no ventilation.