January 04, 2016 Articles

Jones Act Seaman v. Orva “Scientific Personnel” Status

What is the Oceanographic Research Vessel Act's effect on jurisprudence and statutory law?

By Douglas W. Truxillo

This article intends to explore the impact on the jurisprudence and statutory law concerning the Oceanographic Research Vessel Act (ORVA) (formerly 46 U.S.C. sections 441–445) following the U.S. Congress’s wholesale re-codification and re-organization beginning in 2006 of all existing maritime statutes, including ORVA and the Jones Act, to see whether the statutory changes might affect the Jones Act status of scientific personnel, including geophysical or geological surveyors and technicians on board such vessels. Prior to the re-codification, it had long been held by the courts of the Fifth Circuit that “scientific personnel” working on board vessels officially designated by the Coast Guard to be an oceanographic research vessel (ORV) had no claim or remedy against his employer under the Jones Act (46 U.S.C. section 688 now section 30104) as a seaman. Presley v. Vessel Carribean Seal, 709 F.2d 406 (5th Cir. 1983) and Sennett v. Shell Oil Company, 325 F.Supp. 1 (E.D. LA 1971). The changes to the actual wording in the re-codification of the provisions related to oceanographic research vessels and the “scientific personnel” may be interpreted to call into question the rationale found in the Presley/Sennett line of cases.

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