Articles by Pierce Azuma

President Trump Waives Jones Act in Response to Relief Efforts in Puerto Rico

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, more commonly known as the Jones Act, was passed to promote and maintain the American merchant marine by, in part, regulating maritime commerce in U.S. territorial waters and between U.S. ports.  For nearly 100 years, the Jones Act has required that U.S. flag ships, constructed in the U.S., owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed by U.S. citizens or permanent residents be used to transport all goods over water between U.S. ports.  The Act also provides seaman the right to recover for personal injuries sustained in the service of his vessel.


Waivers to the Jones Act’s restriction limiting the transportation of good between U.S. ports to U.S. built, owned, and operated vessels can be granted when in the interest of the national defense.  Typically, these waivers have been allowed during times of national emergency.  Such a waiver was granted following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to foreign vessels carrying oil and natural gas.  Recently, a similar waiver was granted for the Southeastern states following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.


On September 28, 2017, President Trump authorized a waiver for all products bound to ports in Puerto Rico to aid in the worsening crisis on the Island following the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria.

Advanced Technology from U.S. Military will soon find its way into Commercial Diving Operations

The United State Navy has developed the Divers Augmented Vision Display, which is a high-resolution, heads-up display installed directly into a diver’s helmet.  The system will allow the diver to access sonar, text messages, diagrams, and photographs. Significantly, the display will allow for augmented reality videos; technology that allows images and video to be superimposed in real time (think the “monocle” mode in your Yelp app).


This technology will assist divers in recovery and salvage operations by offering real-time positional awareness.  The Naval Sea Systems Command is also working on development of enhanced video systems that will increase diver sight in near zero visibility situations.  Like so many other advancements before, it is only a matter of time before these technologies make their way into commercial diving operations.

Fifth Circuit Weighs in on P&I Insurance Coverage Dispute

Following a verdict in favor a Jones Act seaman, Larry Naquin, for injuries he sustained in a land-based crane accident, an insurance coverage dispute arose between Naquin’s employer, Elevating Boats, LLC (“EBI”), and its insurance companies, State National Insurance Company (“SNIC”) and Certain London Insurers (“London Insurers”).  EBI alleged that SNIC and London Insurers breached their insurance contracts by denying EBI’s claims related to Naquin’s accident and failing to provide defense and indemnity.  EBI also sought damages for bad faith on the part of SNIC and London Insurers.  SNIC moved for summary judgment, arguing there was no coverage for Naquin’s land-based accident under its Protection & Indemnity Policy (the “Policy”) and that EBI failed to provide sufficient notice as required by the Policy.  The District Court granted summary judgment and entered final judgment in favor of SNIC.


On appeal, the Fifth Circuit reviewed the “Indemnity” provision of the policy that called for indemnification of EBI “as owner of the Vessel” for liability arising out of “any casualty or occurrence[.]”  SNIC argued that the “as owner of the Vessel” clause did not provide coverage for EBI’s negligence in Naquin’s land-based accident.  EBI’s assertion to the District Court was that the “any casualty or occurrence” clause provided coverage for the accident.  The Fifth Circuit, interpreting Louisiana law, found that the only way to give meaning to the “Indemnity” provision of the Policy was to construe it as limiting coverage to “any casualty or occurrence” which arises out of EBI’s conduct “as owner of the Vessel.”  Since Naquin’s injuries resulted from a land-based crane accident, the Court held that there was no causal operational relation between the vessel and injury so as to extend coverage of the Policy in this instance.  The District Court’s summary judgment was affirmed.


Naquin v. Elevating Boats, L.L.C., et al.

Cruise Passenger Awarded $21 Million in Sliding Door Mishap

A U.S. District Court jury in Seattle awarded $21.5 million in damages to an Illinois man who suffered a brain injury after being struck in the head by a glass sliding door on the M/S AMSTERDAM.  The plaintiff was traveling with his wife and daughter on the first leg of their around-the-world cruise.  Plaintiff initially reported a facial contusion and chipped tooth.  He was later diagnosed with a concussion and post-concussion syndrome.  Plaintiff asserted that since the injury he began suffering from vertigo and seizures.  Plaintiff argued that there have been dozens of other injuries related to sliding doors in the Holland America fleet due to faulty sensor settings that allowed the doors to open and close faster than normal.  United States District Judge Barbara Rothstein allowed the jury to review evidence of 16 other incidents causing injury, including broken hips and back injuries, to passengers and crew members.  Plaintiff’s experts testified that the sensors were adjusted to open at the last moment and close after half a second of inactivity, which was against the manufacturer’s recommendation.  Plaintiff averred that this was done in order to save on air-conditioning.  Accordingly, the jury awarded plaintiff $5 million in compensatory damages and $16.5 million in punitive damages.

Hausman v. Holland America Line-USA, et al