Most often known as just Maersk, A.P. Moeller-Maersk Group is a Danish conglomerate company with reach and operations in a number of different sectors including oil and gas, transportation, and specialty training. For maritime work Maersk is most known for container shipping. Its name and logo are easily recognizable on shipping containers seen on trains across the U.S. and the world. Since 1996 Maersk has been the world’s largest container shipping line.
Thousands of employees work for Maersk all over the world and with such a big reach into the maritime industry, many of them are working on ships and in ports. Safety is a key issue for maritime work of all kinds, including shipping. Maersk has faced a number of incidents and controversies, most famously having ships hijacked by pirates.
The A.P. Moeller-Maersk multinational company began as a shipping company in Denmark in 1904. The founders were a captain, Peter Maersk-Moeller and his son Arnold Peter Moeller. This early on, the shipping company relied on steam ships, but by the 1920s, diesel ships were added to the fleet. Soon after tankers were added and the Maersk Line, today’s modern container shipping business had its beginning. Over the years the company kept growing until it became the biggest shipper in the world.
This is the biggest of all of Maersk’s divisions and is responsible for the majority of the company’s revenue. Maersk Line is the container shipping division and includes shipping of containers around the world and the logistics needed in the terminals and ports served by Maersk’s ships. Although the company has been engaged in shipping since the beginning the start of the Maersk line officially dates back to 1928.
The Maersk Line division is the largest shipping company in the world with a truly global reach. It employs over 30,000 people with around 7,000 of those working on the ships as seamen. The company has nearly 400 offices in over 100 countries around the world. The fleet includes more than 600 vessels and can hold nearly 3 million TEU of cargo.
As the biggest container shipper in the world, Maersk has a lot to be concerned about when it comes to the safety of its workers. Although container ships are large and mostly stable, the seamen who work aboard them still face a lot of risks, as do all the workers in ports who handle the shipping containers. Maersk Line instituted a “Drive to Zero” initiative with the lofty goal of having no lost-time accidents, as well as zero oil spills. It claims to have 1,000 days free of lost-time accidents on several of its ships.
The company conducts what it calls Safety Boot Camps to ensure a culture of safety aboard its ships. This includes leadership training and training in good communication, vessel analysis for finding potential problems before they become accidents, and job safety analysis. The company also sends out auditors to conduct safety analyses regularly on its ships.
Maersk and Pirates
With large ships carrying cargo, some of it very valuable, all over the world, modern piracy is a real safety concern and one that is hard to combat. Seamen face a number of very serious dangers on the job, but one that can be surprising to hear about is being boarded and threatened by pirates. The public became aware of the risk because of a piracy incident that occurred with a Maersk ship in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Somalia.
A crew of 23 aboard the Maersk Alabama, a ship carrying 17,000 metric tons of container cargo, was headed for a port in Kenya when four young pirates attacked the ship on April 8, 2009. Maersk had trained its staff, including this crew in anti-piracy strategies and the crew had even had a pirate drill the day before the real situation occurred. The pirate bell rang, 14 crew members made it to a safe and secure room, remaining crew sent out emergency flares, but the pirates still managed to board the ship.
The Maersk Alabama and its crew’s rescue came from the U.S. Navy on April 12 after a siege that started on the ninth. The captain of the ship, Captain Phillips, was taken hostage by the pirates on a lifeboat on the first day of the incident. Ultimately the U.S. Navy killed the three pirates in the lifeboat and the captain was rescued and was not seriously injured.
What the famous movie that told the story of Captain Phillips did not relay is that the crew of the ship, most of whom were Americans, believed that Maersk was negligent in the incident. They claim that the company intentionally steered them into waters they knew to be infested with pirates. Those crew members included the captain in the blame, claiming that he also knew of the risk, but went into the area anyway. The crew filed lawsuits after the incident, which was settled by Maersk, but the terms remain confidential.
Piracy is not the only safety concern for workers aboard Maersk container ships. Any kind of accident that can occur with a ship may occur with a container ship. For instance, in May of 2016 a Maersk container ship collided with a German container ship offshore from China. The incident left the ship without power, on fire, and with a big gash in the side. Luckily the crew was not hurt, and although the ship took on water, it could be safely towed to shore.
In 2015, another Maersk ship, called the Tigris, was seized by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. The Iranian government claimed to have seized it due to a dispute between Maersk and an Iranian company. That company accused Maersk of defaulting on what it owed. That controversial claim put Maersk workers at risk. While detaining the ship, Iranians fired shots, which could have hurt or killed innocent workers aboard.
Maersk has taken some risks with its employees and ships and stirred up controversy over the years, but it also takes safety seriously. As a maritime worker you should know your rights and the responsibilities your employer has to keep you as safe as is reasonably possible. If you are hurt aboard a container ship, you have recourse to seek compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses, including pain and suffering. If you are the loved one of someone who dies aboard a ship while working, you also have these rights. Whether negligence can be proven or not, you have a right to compensation if injured doing this very dangerous and risky work.