BLOOD ON BROWN WATER:
Chapter 2 c
Finally, in February 2003, our Association pulled the problem from the Coast Guard and brought it directly to the attention of the media and two Congressional oversight committees and have kept our focus on the problem ever since.(Refer to NMA Report R-350, Rev.6].
Here are some problems a seriously injured mariner faces to obtain the care and attention he rightfully deserves following a serious job-related accident.
Collins' sister in law , Rita Billiot called us on behalf of her family for advice. Our Association recommended that her family seek legal counsel from Mark L. Ross, Esq. who is well known by our mariners. Mr.Ross visited with the family at the hospital in Lake Charles, LA on the day after the accident and took charge of the situation to ensure that Collins' immediate and long term medical needs were attended to. In doing so, he sought to work with the company, R&B Falcon, and its insurer. The vessel itself was in the process of being transferred from one owner to another.
When the attorneys for the new owners, Delta Towing, made things difficult in a number of ways, Attorney Mark Ross filed a lawsuit and brought the matter to a head. In the meanwhile, Delta Towing procrastinated and failed to come forward with the Mate, a key witness to this tragic event, for almost two years. During this time, Collins and Catherine and their family were left to their own limited means to do their best to try to cope with their shattered lives. This part of the story was absolutely unforgivable on the part of Delta Towing (as successor to R&B Falcon) but is not uncommon in the maritime industry. Our Association condemns the type of unnecessary hardship that this company and its attorneys perpetuated.
In acknowledging the referral of this case, Attorney Ross reminded our Association's officers that he owed his undivided allegiance to his client, Collins Verret and his family, and that he would do his best to secure a fair and full monetary settlement for them so that they could try to pick up the pieces of their lives.
Since this was the most horrendous example of a violation of the 12-hour statute we had witnessed to date, we hoped that a victory in court based on violations of the 12-hour rule would prove once and for all that all licensed mariners were clearly entitled to protection under the law. This did not happen in this case, like so many others finally was settled quietly "out of court". Consequently, in its final settlement, the towing company could assert that it had broken no laws, is guilty of nothing, ans settled amicably with their former employee. It's the truth, but certainly not the whole truth. This is why we examined this case so carefully so that we could share its findings with our mariners.
Nevertheless, the final settlement did ensure that Captain Verret and his family would receive compensation for damages-following 2 1/2 years of intense privation, anxiety over medical bills and their future, additional stress, and suffering. sadly, the damage done to Collins and his family can never be repaired or restored. In viewing Collins after his accident, the cold hard cash from the settlement is both cold and hard.
If a judge had arrived at a decision after court proceedings, his decision might have set a clear precedent all injured mariners could look to. But, at this point, we believe it would be best to replace the existing 12 hour statute by "scientifically based hours -of -work regulations" not only for officers but also for other crew members as well. A twelve-hour workday limit takes into consideration certain "human factors" that can not be denied. But Congress rather than the Coast Guard, will have to order a 12-hour workday for unlicensed crew members because the Coast Guard lacks the authority to do so. Our Association formally requested that Congress take this action because unlicensed crew members need the same consideration as their officers (Refer to NMA Report #R-350 Rev. 6, Issues "H" and "K").
Our Association asserts that any new work -hour statutes should be based on suitable scientific studies. Congress ordered and received a Coast Guard Crew Endurance Management Study (CEMS) in 2005. While the science was excellent, the results did not justify using CEMS procedures as a substitute for adequate vessel manning. In public meetings , in October 2011, industry leaders continue to show no willingness to find a way to provide for a proven human need for 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep for their mariners in any 24-hour period. For the present, the NTSB recommendation for scientifically based hours of service regulations are just that-recommendations. They will remain a pipe dream unless Congress takes action and the Coast Guard enforces it. Limited- tonnage mariners who take a stand on this issue and refuse to be a party to existing work-boat hour laws and regulations will fight a losing battle until the law is changed and the Coast Guard enforces it. The existing 84-hour workweek that employers violate with impunity and the Coast Guard refuses to enforce must change. Unfortunately, it often takes a disaster to bring about changes. Even then, the last clear work-hour disaster that took out the I-40 Bridge at Webbers Falls, OK along with 14 lives and $30,000,000 in damages apparently was not enough.
To be Continued