The cost of Unrestrained Access to the Internet by the crew

It was the policy of a shipping company to upgrade the communications packages on all their time chartered and owned vessels from systems which provided e-mail and satellite telephone communications only, to systems that also included limited on board internet access at a fixed monthly flat-rate payment. The new systems were being gradually fitted throughout the fleet.

When the existing communications unit on board one ship (which did not include internet access) failed during the first few months of 2009 it was replaced by a modern broadband unit, but not by the new system. This unit was intended to replace the existing e-mail and voice communications only. However, the broadband unit was also capable of internet access via satellite link. The vessel superintendent employed by the ship manager inadvertently failed to exclude internet access when he completed the activation form. During the installation and activation he also failed to notify the crew of its intended use or advise on any tariff rates, which were in his possession.

The crew, who had already been notified of the company’s intentions regarding future internet access for all its vessels, wrongly assumed that the new unit had been provided for their unlimited use, and proceeded to download at will. The usual cost of communications under the old system was no more than USD 1,800 per month. Had the intended upgraded system, including limited internet access, been in place the monthly cost would have been USD 3,800. During the first three months, and before the error was discovered, the crew downloaded freely and managed to run up an enormous “airtime charge” of USD 436,000.

As the shipping company had never agreed to this “free for all” use of the internet by the crew they claimed the difference of what they would have paid (USD 5,400) and the actual amount charged from the ship manager.

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