Seaman's Manslaughter Act

Having followed the postings here I have been wondering about the charge of “Seaman’s Manslaughter”, which is a term I’ve never come across before. Why is it necessary to separate Seaman from others when it comes to manslaughter (or negligence) ??

I finally Googled it and here is what Guard P&I has to say about it:

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It is a disgusting fact that the law is so selectively applied.

If you want an example of how little the CG values a mariner’s life, take a look at Motts and the M/V Green Wave.


Thanks for bringing this up ombugge & you too Steamer for giving the engineers a reminder about securing things in the engine room regardless of how heavy they are & how sturdy they might appear. Glad I read the link provided about the M/V Green Wave death.

According to the first link, apparently normally land people aren’t as liable for being stupid & neglectful as mariners are which probably keeps our over crowded prisons a little bit less crowded.

From the article:

“What is noteworthy about the statute is that it seemingly permits criminal liability to be imposed for ordinary negligence – the type of conduct that courts typically consider in civil cases and which results only in the imposition of a civil penalty such as a damages award, so long as the negligence causes death…”

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:laughing: :laughing: :laughing: :laughing:

The horror of the Green Wave incident was not so much the unsecured head as it was the captain choosing to not inform the CG or the medical advisors that there were medical facilities available at the other end of the towline. The captain only told the CG that Mott’s injuries were “minor.”

The transcript of the civil trial is chilling. "The district court found LMS’s conduct to be “utterly negligent and downright inhumane.”


True. Steven Neuman was CEO of Transocean when the Deepwater Horizon killed 11 and injured more. He resigned in 2015. His severance is listed by the SEC. Once you total up the stock he was awarded and able to cash in at that time he came out very well.
Not too shabby for a guy that told his rig managers the first priority is to "maximize the company’s assets " [show a profit] Cut cost and show profit they did.

I knew of the Wave and vaguely recall that event but know for sure of a great many mariners who wish to see that vessel’s Master (mentioned in the case) burn in hell.

And not just because if this incident… it seems he had a history of willful and deliberate neglect of officers/crew and general assholery. If what they used to say about him when he was around is true, then surviving as long as he did in this industry is a failure of unions (all of them) to protect their upstanding members.

(Sorry to edit so late, was typing in a hurry before a long trip…)


A fairly recent incident of seaman’s manslaughter charges being filed against an officer involved Staten Island Ferries mate Richard Smith who caused the death of 10 passengers and several serious injuries. He lied on his 719K with the complicity of his doctor who prescribed his pain management medication. They caused him to pass out, sail past his destination terminal and crash into an adjacent pier at cruising speed. As in many other accidents, procedures were ignored. Had he not been left alone in the wheelhouse, the accident could have been avoided.

I don’t think procedures were ignored. The assistant captain was driving with a lookout alongside. It was standard practice for the lookout to leave the pilot house to help dock the vessel. It was also standard practice for the other captain to be in the second pilot house to be ready for the return trip.

The procedures weren’t changed to require both captains in the active wheelhouse until after the crash.

He also wasn’t alone when he passed out. The mate was in the back of the pilot house on a couch reading a newspaper.

Procedures were both not followed and not widely known due to there being no safety management system or training program. The lookout left the wheelhouse before the crash.

Thats not true. The two-pilot rule had been in existence for over 50 years. The Director of Ferry Operations admitted he knew it wasn’t being followed. He even had submitted a directive to the city re-enforcing the already existing rule but lied about actually distributing it to crew, and pled guilty himself to Seaman’s Manslaughter.

From the case:

Patrick Ryan, the City’s director of ferry operations at the time of the accident, conceded that he knew that the Staten Island Ferry’s Standard Operating Procedures (“SOP”) were not being followed:

[W]hen I was the director of Staten Island Ferry operations, I understood . . . that the ferry service had a written rule that generally required the captain and assistant captain to be together in the operating pilot house while the [ferry was] underway.

A rule that served to insure passenger safety by providing for at least two people in the operating pilot house aware of the navigational situation.

I knew that this rule was not always being observed by all captains and assistant captains in good weather. I drafted revised Staten Island Ferry Standard Operating Procedures between 2001 and 2002 that restated this rule but did not take appropriate steps to insure – did not take adequate steps to insure that the ferry’s captains and assistant captains received the new document, trained them on the rule nor insured that they were complying with it.

As a result, this rule was not followed at the time of the accident involving the Barberi on October 15, 2003 and no crew member noticed in time that the boat was far off course.

@shipengr @tugsailor

I know both of you guys made these statements on another thread about seaman manslaughter charges being dismissed but since that is an older thread dealing with a similar debate as this one I decided to post here.

Seaman aren’t the only people who are held to higher standards when it comes to accidents & negligence. Motorists & truck drivers have vehicular homicide to deal with but if a pedestrian walks in front of a moving car causing the driver to swerve off the road & kill himself the pedestrian won’t be charged with pedestrian manslaughter or pedestrian homicide. Also, several states hold health, child & elderly care providers to a higher standard concerning accidents & negligence. I’m fine with it all. IMO, our society needs people to be more accountable for their actions, not less.

The Seaman’s Manslaughter Act has a lower bar for what is considered a crime. Vehicular homicide has a higher bar.

Below are 2 stories of 2 operators neglectfully using their large chunks of metal to commit manslaughter. I think the seamen got off easier than the motorist. Charging motorists with manslaughter who are texting while being in fatal car accidents has become more popular & has gotten a lot of attention. For decades society has been harsher on drunk drivers compared to drunk pedestrians for good reason. If you are going to be an idiot don’t operate guns, cars, SUVs, semitrailers, boats, ships or heavy machinery. IMO, if you are going to handle guns, cars, SUVs, semitrailers, boats, ships or heavy machinery you should be held to a higher standard than a person sitting on a park bench.

The key point here (as I currently understand it) is the difference between civil negligence and criminal negligence.

For me, I’m not too hung up on the civil/criminal responsibility conflict. If a pizza baker at Domino’s accidentally drops a quarter into the dough & a customer chokes & dies I can reasonably foresee a civil suit. But I can’t imagine a prosecutor would charge the low level, near minimum wage earner with manslaughter or homicide. But if a professional mariner boat skipper sends all his crew to sleep, clearly violating his COI with a boat full of passengers I can see some clear neglect in his actions & that a reasonable person could foresee a catastrophe resulting in manslaughter or homicide. Mariners know that we bare a lot of responsibilities & are held at a different standard, I’m fine with it. We’re not the only one’s either.

Do you think that’s not true upstream of the Table Rock Lake Dam? Because the Seaman’s Manslaughter Act does not apply there.

For that reason finding the captain criminal liable will be more difficult.

A defense lawyer will argue the Seamen Manslaughter Act isn’t applicable on rivers, lakes, canals, inside the line of demarcation or anywhere else if you pay them enough. That’s what defense lawyers do. No one wants to go to jail regardless of many deaths they caused. It lessens our profession to argue mariners aren’t anymore responsible than anyone else concerning maritime matters & accidents. That’s why we get the license? If they don’t have any special responsibilities on the other side of that dam then they should charge one of the passengers extra to drive, screw the license.

An interesting aspect of the SI ferry case was the US District judge’s rejection of the city’s claim for protection under the Limitation of Liability Act. The Act states in general that a ship owner is entitled to limit his liability for the negligence of the master or crew, but not for his own personal negligence or that of his managerial personnel.
He ruled that “The city’s failure to provide a second pilot or otherwise adopt a reasonable practice that addresses the issue of pilot incapacitation was plainly a substantial factor in causing the disaster". "Because this negligence is directly attributable to its director of ferry operations, the city cannot limit its liability to the value of the Barberi.”
There’s a parallel here in the case of the Conception. The company has filed for limited liability based on the value of the vessel which IIRC they claim is nil since it was destroyed in the fire.
If the judge shares the view with many here that management of the Conception contributed to the tragedy by condoning the practice that led to it, it will be a game changer for them.

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The standards are the same, either side of the dam. In COLREGS for example the standard is “good seamanship”.

There must be similar standards for truck drivers as well. If there’s an incident and those standards were found not to have been followed the driver could be held legally responsibly.

It could be a case of civil liability or criminal liability.

Should acts that have traditionally by precedent been considered civil liability be changed to be considered criminal because truckers should be held to a higher standard?

It’s possible that management has some responsibility. We don’t know because we don’t have all the facts.