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The vessel owner owes the seaman a strict and absolute duty to provide a seaworthy vessel.

A seaworthy vessel is one that is reasonably fit for its intended use, it should be a safe place to work and live. A seaworthy vessel should be equipped with appropriate safety gear and equipment, safe recreation facilities, and a competent crew.

The duty owed to a seaman is more rigorous than the seaworthiness promised in a contract for the carriage of marine cargo. In addition to holding a seaman's employer responsible for the negligent acts of its employees and officers, a seaman can recover if he can prove the vessel was unseaworthy and he was injured as a result.

A vessel that is unseaworthy does not mean that it is in danger of sinking. A vessel is unseaworthy if a piece of equipment breaks or is inoperable, the vessel's crew is too small or incomplete, not adequately trained, or a condition such as oil, grease or rust exists where it is not intended to exist and the unseaworthy condition is a direct cause of injury to the seaman.

In other words, negligence focuses on acts of the seaman's employer, and unseaworthiness focuses on the condition or inadequacy of the vessel itself. Unlike the Jones Act claims, which is against the seaman's employer, an unseaworthiness claim is made against the vessel's owner. In many cases those actions will be against the same party.

An unseaworthiness claim will bring the owner into a lawsuit as an additional source of recovery for the seaman.

As with the Jones Act, an unseaworthiness claim must be filed within three years of the injury, and must be combined with a Jones Act claim.
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