Captain Can Modify Claims in Pirate Attack

     (CN) — A captain whose Chevron supply ship was attacked by pirates can amend his lawsuit claiming that he was given an unseaworthy vessel, the Fifth Circuit ruled.
     Wren Thomas was captain of the C-Retriever, a supply ship for Chevron’s operations off the coast of Nigeria. Thomas’ primary employer was Edison Chouest Offshore LLC.
     Thomas claimed that he warned Chevron and Edison that his ship’s age and lack of speed made it vulnerable to a pirate attack.
     He said he began to receive threats over his ship’s radio in 2013, but Edison did not act on his request to be transferred.
     Later that year, Nigerian militants allegedly threatened to kidnap Edison’s crews and burn their ships. Edison warned its ships, including the C-Retriever, to “stay very vigilant.”
     Four days later, Edison sent Thomas’ ship through what he called “one of the most pirate-infested areas in West Africa, and directly closer to the source of the recent threats.”
     Pirates attacked in the middle of the night. Thomas and his crew tried to hide in the bulk tank room, but they could not keep the intruders out. According to Thomas, the C-Retriever was not equipped with a citadel, which is a “safe room” that is fortified in the event of a pirate attack.
     Thomas surrendered and was held in various holding camps for 18 days, where he said he was tortured and malnourished.
     After his release, the captain sued Chevron and Edison in October 2014 under the Jones Act and for unseaworthiness.
     He also complained that Chevron and Edison had broadcast his ship’s location on VHF radios, which he stated could be easily accessed.
     The case proceeded from Texas state court to Federal Court, and Thomas tried to amend his Jones Act claim to replace it with general maritime law and negligence claims.
     The Federal Court denied Thomas leave to amend, but the Fifth Circuit overturned the ruling in an Aug. 11 decision written by Judge James L. Dennis.
     The judge said that Thomas had set forth a claim against Chevron that did not rely on whether he was the company’s employee.
     “Furthermore, because he requested leave to replace his Jones Act claims with maritime law and negligence claims, the relief he sought was presumably the same as that outlined in his original petition: compensatory damages, punitive damages, interest, reimbursement of costs, and any other general and equitable relief deemed appropriate by the trial court,” Dennis wrote for a three-judge panel.
     The judge added that the amendments to Thomas’ claims would not have been futile, so the Federal Court should have granted his motion. He remanded the case for further action.
     “These allegations are sufficient to suggest that the harm suffered by Thomas was reasonably foreseeable to Chevron and that Chevron consequently owed him a duty not to subject him to the conditions he encountered on his Oct. 22, 2013 voyage,” Dennis wrote.

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