Seafarer Wage Claims

Since the foundation of the Republic,  the policy of the United States Congress, as evidenced by its legislation, has been to deal with seamen as a favored class. The First Congress enacted laws to prevent shipowners from indiscriminately withholding a seafarer’s wages in 1790. These laws were subsequently strengthened in scope for the benefit of seafarers in amendments passed in 1872, 1898 and 1915

To shield seamen against unfair conduct by shipowners, Congress enacted special wage protection statutes. Congress did not limit this statutory coverage to American seamen; rather, Congress extended protection to all seamen who serve on a foreign vessel when located in a United States harbor.

Two relevant portions of the Seaman’s Wage Act govern when a shipowner must pay a seafarer’s wages: “At the end of a voyage, the master shall pay each seaman the balance of wages after the seaman is discharged, whichever is earlier.” 46 U.S.C. §10313(f). Where a shipowner withholds a seafarer’s wages and lacks “sufficient cause” for withholding the wages, “the master or owner shall pay to the seaman 2 days’ wages for each day payment is delayed.” §10313(g).  In simple terms, under section “f,” the seaman is entitled to reimbursement of all wages unlawfully withheld by the shipowner. Moreover, if the shipowner’s withholding is found to be “without sufficient cause,” section “g” requires payment of additional penalty wages.

Once the seaman establishes a wrongful deprivation of his wages (under section “f”), the burden of proof shifts to the shipowner to demonstrate that its failure to pay the wages was justified (that it was with “sufficient cause”) under Section “g.” If the defendant shipowner fails to meet its burden to show that the withholding was justified (with sufficient cause),the unadorned language of the statute dictates that the shipowner ‘shall pay to the seaman’ the sums specific for each and every day during which payment is delayed. See Maritime attorney Carlos Llinás recent article on seafarers’ rights to wages.

If you have worked on a ship and have questions about your rights under the seafarer´s wage statutes contact us for a free consultation.