By Dorie Cox
When a yacht gets seized – arrested – for financial reasons, the subsequent jockeying for restitution often leaves yacht crew pay low on the list.
Such was the case with M/Y Lady Sara. The owner of the 187-foot Trinity, formerly Lady Linda, defaulted on a loan and U.S. Marshal officers arrested the boat last fall. Several of the crew hired the maritime law firm of Moore & Company in Miami for help to recoup unpaid benefits and wages, according to Michael Moore, founding partner.
In the process of foreclosing the boat’s mortgage, crew and vendor debt are often not viewed as important as bank debt, Moore said. Beyond that, verifying the crew’s work history and information was another challenge because some of the crew had been remiss in documenting their time on board, he said.
Fortunately for the crew members, the captain’s log books and notes may have helped to recoup thousands of dollars of salary and benefits.
“They were short of records,” he said. “But for the good record-keeping of the captain, they would have had nothing. Many crew couldn’t even find their employment agreements.”
Participants and details of the legal proceedings were not shared with The Triton, but Moore pointed out that proof, especially contracts or Seafarers’ Employment Agreements (SEA), were key to getting crew their owed wages. Documentation such as calendars, duties, and crew history of their work on board are vital in legal proceedings. Compiling such information does not need to be daunting.
“Every crew should maintain a personal daily log,” Moore said. “Just put it together with an iPhone.”
In the case of M/Y Lady Sara, information was compiled for several of the crew to get their compensation after the arrest, even though some of the contracts did not have end or commencement dates, Moore said. Some of the legal complexity hinged on whether the vessel was sold before the end of crew agreements.
“If benefits are triggered by dates, it follows that you should make sure they are filled in,” Moore said. “In our case, severance was not detailed, but there was an addendum. Crew were terminated before the event occurred, which gave right to severance.”
Basically, any legal success in such situations comes down to having a Seafarers’ Employment Agreement.
“If crew don’t have an SEA, well, they would be well advised to have one,” Moore said. “Otherwise, they fall under the law of the flag state.”
There are 32 open registries that yachts use and every one has different laws, he said. Most yacht registries protect seamen with respect to crew holiday leave pay, penalty wages, and ordinary wages due – but with additional benefits such as severance, there can be challenges.
Seaman should read their employment agreements closely, Moore said.
“It’s a contract, and it defines their relationship to the vessel,” he said. “As with all contracts, crew need to read and decide, ‘Does this make sense for how long I plan to be on this yacht?’ Read your contract for your life and your reality. Understand your rights so you can confirm your rights. Learn to keep good records.”
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Comments are welcome below.