by Derek Achong
The crew members of a Bolivian cargo vessel who were left stranded in Trinidad since March after being abandoned by their employer, have successfully petitioned a High Court Judge to sell the vessel to cover their outstanding salaries, living expenses, and repatriations.
High Court Judge Frank Seepersad ordered the sale yesterday as he upheld the lawsuit brought by the nine crew members of the “BTMAX 1” vessel, which still remains anchored off the Port-of-Spain harbour outside of Queen’s Wharf.
In an affidavit, attached to the lawsuit, deckhand Trevor Bishop, from the British Virgin Islands, claimed that in 2019 he entered into an agreement with two financiers for them to purchase and operate the vessel, which is registered in the Port of La Paz in Bolivia.
Bishop claimed that he was given a minority shareholding in the company, Inter Caribbean Shipping Limited, and agreed to work on-board the vessel for a salary until the venture became profitable and he could receive a share of the profits.
He claimed that while he and the other crew members from Honduras, St Vincent, Guyana, Grenada, and T&T, performed their duties, they were not paid for several months and were not provided with provisions or subsistence as required under their contracts.
In October, last year, the vessel’s former captain Dalton Young, of Honduras, fell ill and had to seek medical attention at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital.
Young was eventually repatriated to his country, where he died.
Last month, Bishop and the remaining crew members filed a lawsuit for a warrant of arrest for the vessel, which was granted by High Court Judge Ricky Rahim.
The crew members then sought to have the vessel sold to clear the company’s US$190,507.16 debt to them. The lawsuit was not defended by the owners of the vessel and Justice Seepersad eventually granted a default judgement, yesterday.
Under the terms of the judgement, the vessel is to be sold at auction based on a reserve price set by a local marine engineer.
The proceeds of the sale would be used to pay the nine workers including Young and to cover the ongoing costs associated with maintaining and preserving the arrest of the vessel.
In issuing the judgement, Seepersad commended the crew members’ legal team, who assisted with their plight, and criticised their former employer.
“A no-tolerance approach to wrongdoing and dishonesty in its many manifestations has to be adopted. These crew members were placed in an untenable and unfortunate situation and the callous and inhumane way they were treated must be condemned,” Seepersad said.
The crew members were represented by Nyree Alfonso and Asif Hosein-Shah.