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High Court Judge Awards Crew of M/Y Alfa Nero Unpaid Wages

11 January 2024 By Holly Overton
Credit: Raphael Montigneaux

Holly is the editor of Dockwalk. She grew up sailing dinghies on the south coast of England before switching to the world of superyachts and moving across the pond to Fort Lauderdale.

The crew of the abandoned 82-meter motor yacht Alfa Nero has been awarded an undisclosed sum for unpaid wages following a ruling by a high court judge. 


The case was brought before the High Court of Antigua and Barbuda in September 2023 by Nautilus International and Capt. Christopher Malcolm Lewis to recoup monies owed to crewmembers employed on board Alfa Nero before its abandonment, and to those who continued on board or were hired as part of a skeleton crew between March 2022 and April 2023. 


The unionized crewmembers claimed that they were entitled to €2.2 million in unpaid wages with a 4 percent interest rate. Their argument was grounded in Section 49(1) of the 2006 Merchant Shipping Act, asserting priority for maritime liens, including wages, over other debts. At the same time, non-unionized crewmembers filed a separate claim seeking payment of €439,494.40. The combined payment sought totalled around €2.7 million.


The crew of Alfa Nero was dismissed by Burgess Crew Services, the management company appointed by Flying Dutchman Overseas Ltd to which the vessel was registered, on March 10, 2023. The vessel was declared abandoned and seized on April 11, 2023. Both unionized and non-unionized members’ claims for remuneration were consolidated in July 2023. 


On December 12, 2023, Judge Nicola Byer ruled in the crew's favor, awarding the total sum of unpaid wages to the captain and 18 members of crew.


Flying Dutchman Overseas Ltd, the registered owner of the vessel, had made no arrangements or given instructions for the maintenance or staffing of the vessel following its seizure, and there was debate over whether Capt. Lewis was acting within his jurisdiction to rehire previously dismissed crewmembers. 


The judge determined that Lewis did have the authority to make decisions on the rehiring of crew and maintenance of the vessel, calling it a “reasonable course of action.” She added that it would be "just and equitable for the returning crewmembers to be remunerated for their services during the period March 18, 2022, to April 11, 2023.”


According to the court documents, a point of contention during proceedings was that several crewmembers received promotions during the period in question and were claiming for higher rate of pay from when their contracts were initially terminated. The judge ruled all promotions as temporary and said “The members of the crew who remained on board  [...] did so at their own risk and are entitled to be paid pursuant to the rate of pay earned before termination by Burgess and those who were not so employed by Burgess at the standard monthly rate of pay as set out in the attachment to the non-union claim.”


Additional claims for travel expenses, gratuity, crew training, and attorneys fees, were also dismissed.


Charles Boyle, director of legal services,  called the verdict a "massive win". “The cohesiveness of our yachting and legal teams is what really spurred this battle on and allowed us to achieve the result that we did. Once the crew contacted our helpline, the yachting team were especially effective and efficient in handling the data collected from their seafarer’s employment agreements, payslips and other details about the claim, and then coordinating the best plan of action.”


He continued, “'Although some crew may be slightly disappointed as they wanted to be successful on all aspects of the claims, securing payment for over a year's worth of wages for our members is an amazing result. This is especially true given the context of the Russian sanctions, which has been a completely new legal territory for everyone.”


“This case also shows us how vital it is to keep copies of your employment agreements and correspondence records, so if you ever do effectively have a claim, you have written evidence to back it up,” says Boyle.


The fate of the vessel remains in contention after the winning auction bidder, former CEO of Google Eric Schmidt, backed out of the deal citing ongoing litigation regarding the ownership of the vessel and questions over the legality of the auction. The second highest bidder, Warren Halle, has also launched a legal case against the government, stating that the government, according to the terms of the initial auction, must accept his bid now that Schmidt defaulted. 

 

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