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Crew of cargo ship detained off Charleston say they haven’t been paid in months

Crew of cargo ship detained off Charleston say they haven’t been paid in months
John McDermott May 18, 2020

The crew members of a cargo ship that’s been detained off the tip of Charleston peninsula since late January are seeking to be paid back wages from a proposed sale of the vessel.

The 21 confined mariners aboard the M/V Evolution said in a court document filed Sunday that they are owed more than $355,000 under their employment contracts.

They also said they’re entitled to share a $42,300 bonus if the anchored freighter is sold.

A consortium of insurers are demanding that the Evolution be put on the auction block to pay for a shipment of iron that was damaged by saltwater as the vessel sailed to Indonesia from Iran.

They are seeking to recoup $1.45 million from an overseas maritime firm called Smooth Navigation, according to a negligence lawsuit they filed in federal court earlier this year.

The U.S. Marshals Service detained the 505-foot vessel on Jan. 31, a day after it arrived in Charleston Harbor.

The overseas crew is asking a federal judge to place a maritime lien on the Liberian-flagged Evolution and allow them to intervene in the insurance dispute before the auction, which is scheduled for Tuesday.

Otherwise, their pay claims “are in peril of being extinguished,” North Charleston maritime lawyer Julius “Sam” Hines said in a filing.

“Courts have described crew wage liens as ‘sacred liens,’ for which, ‘as long as a plank of the ship remains, the sailor is entitled, against all other persons, to the proceeds as a security for his wages,’” Hines wrote.

Most of the stranded seamen are from the Philippines, except for the two top-ranking officers, who are from Jordan and Lebanon. About $55,000 of their back wages accrued before the ship was arrested in South Carolina waters.

The crew members, who have continued to perform their duties, are not seeking to postpone the auction, according to the court filing.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel ordered that the Evolution be sold after a hearing last month.

He said he had reviewed the expenses the ship had racked up from the time it arrived in South Carolina through Feb. 22. The bills included $68,000 in dockage payments, $38,000 for fuel and $800 a day in custodial fees.

“These costs only compound as time passes,” Gergel wrote.

He also noted that the fair-market value of the 25-year-old ship is about $2.75 million. He said a public auction is appropriate based on the growing and “extensive” expenses and the “disproportionate decreasing value” of the Evolution.

The bidding starts at $1.25 million and will increase in minimum $10,000 increments. Would-be buyers are required to submit a $125,000 refundable deposit, according to the sale terms.

In addition to the crew wages, the Evolution’s owner and manager, both Greek companies, owe Coleman Supply Co. about $53,200 for provisions, according to a recent court filing. The 133-year-old Charleston-based ship chandler is seeking to place a separate lien on the freighter to secure its 10 unpaid claims.