We are often contacted by crew members who were discharged from employment but were not paid all owed wages. Should this happen, you may be entitled to 2 times the wages for each day the ship owner fails to make payment.
The Seaman’s Penalty Wage Act provides crew members serving aboard American Ships who are discharged in any port without being paid all earned wages within 4 days the right to sue the ship owner for earned wages plus 2 days wages for each day payment is delayed! This statutory right is provided to both American and non-American crew members. For example, a crew member from Honduras who was discharged in Miami without being paid all earned wages can bring a claim under the Penalty Wage Act.
The Penalty Wage Act also provides the above remedies to crew members serving aboard non-American ships. The only difference is, the crew member must be discharged at a United States port.
Only certain types of owed money are considered “wages” under the Penalty Wage Act. Wages included under the Act are all compensation owed for service aboard the ship including bonuses, vacation pay, annual allowances, tips and severance pay. Consequently, if the crew member has not been paid the above compensation within 4 days of discharge, he is entitled to bring a claim under the Act. However, courts found contributions to union health, retirement/pension plans, maintenance and cure benefits, and vacation trust funds are not “wages” under the Act. As such, failure to pay these types of benifits cannot trigger the Penalty Wage Act.
Unfortunately, not all crew members may take advantage of the Seaman’s Penalty Wage Act. Specifically excluded from the Act are ship’s masters, crew members working aboard yachts and fishing vessels as well as crew members serving aboard ships whose voyage does not call on a non-American port. However, any other type of crew members not specifically excluded from the Act can bring a claim for double wages.
If you are owed earned wages and think you have a claim under the Seaman’s Penalty Wage Act, feel free to contact our experienced maritime lawyers who specialize in crew member wage disputes.