Monday, August 6, 2018

Maritime Union Wins Rights of Crew in Superyacht Divorce Case

Passports Returned to Seafarers After 10 Months
Shipping News Feature
DUBAI – Nautilus International, the UK headquartered maritime union which represents a range of professional seafarers including masters, harbourmasters, maritime lawyers and the like also stands up for yacht crews, and has just been called upon to intervene in a case where some of its 22,000 or so members had their passports confiscated by the Dubai authorities after a superyacht was impounded due to a high profile divorce.

This of course is no ordinary yacht, the Luna, is a subject of the divorce battle between the vessel’s Russian owner, Farkhad Akhmedov, and his ex-spouse, Tatiana Akhmedov, and comes in at 115 metres bow to stern. This makes it the world’s second largest expedition yacht, sold to the current owners, a company in which Akhmedov, reportedly a friend of Roman Abramovich, is involved, for $360 million in 2014 and subsequently refitted in its birthplace of Bremerhaven at a reported cost of over $50 million.

Upon arrival at Port Rashid, Dubai last October the vessel was seized by the authorities and subsequently a London Court ruled Akhmedov had deliberately hidden his ownership of the yacht and instructed that the vessel be handed over to the lady named in the case. When the ship docked in Dubai all the passports of the crew had been impounded and they were told this was to prevent the vessel leaving. This stranded them as they were unable even to take leave or resign their positions as they could not exit the state.

Working with the Marshall Islands flag state, Nautilus sought to provide reassurance to the members working on board, many of whom were worried about speaking to the Union because of onerous non-disclosure agreements. Following this intervention, a successful court judgment ordered the return of the passports. However, the local coastguard appeared to place further obstacles in the way of the crew, arguing that a guarantee on the safe manning of the vessel was required before the documents were handed back.

When Nautilus members made representations to the emirate’s British Embassy, consular staff placed pressure on the coastguard to accept the court order and return the passports rapidly. Nautilus strategic organiser Danny McGowan explained:

“Confiscating passports like this is a severe violation of the rights of seafarers, who are being treated as if they were chattels rather than maritime professionals. Yet again we have seen Nautilus members caught up in the personal problems of a superyacht owner. Yacht crew deserve the right to go to work without worrying about whether the owner is going through a divorce or, in the ongoing case of the superyacht Indian Empress*, have their assets frozen whilst fighting extradition.

“Cases like this underline the need for decent treatment and effective representation of crews in this sector. We had approached the management company earlier in the year, when there was a pay issue, to open a dialogue to resolve problems like this without the need to resort to court judgments and consular support, but this request was rebutted.

“We already work closely with a number of strategic yacht partners and we re-issue our call to other organisations to become part of our network to prevent matters from escalating in such a way. We stand ready to assist our members wherever they are in the world, and we urge all yacht crew to become Nautilus members so they can have the support of the Union for maritime professionals if they get caught up in similar issues.”

* Editors note: This vessel is due for auction on 19 September 2018 in Malta – if you have a €1 million deposit to take part).

Photo: The Luna.