The tale of the EVOLUTION
As some know I've been involved with the case of the M/V EVOLUTION, a bulk carrier vessel still here in Charleston. This post is intended to answer some of the questions I am often asked, mainly from non-lawyers.
Why is the ship here? It was "attached," or seized, in connection with a commercial claim against the ship's owner. This happens with some frequency. Under maritime law, a claimant can attach the property of the debtor to secure a maritime claim. Any property can be attached, including ships. If the owner of the property does not provide security for its release, the property will eventually be sold. In this case, the ship was sold at a public auction on May 19th. The U.S. District Court in Charleston confirmed the sale on May 26th.
What about the crew? They stayed on the ship. Sometimes the crew are sent home after a ship is seized in this fashion. But for that to happen, the ship must usually be taken to a "lay berth" where it can safely stay with a "skeleton" crew. Berths for commercial ships, however, are really expensive. For the ship to remain at anchor in the harbor (which is free), a sufficient crew must remain aboard. So the crew of the EVOLUTION continued to perform their duties between January 31st, when the ship was first seized, and yesterday (June 13th) when they finally left the ship.
What about food and other essentials? While under attachment, the ship was formally in the custody of a "substitute custodian" appointed by the Court. The substitute custodian made sure the ship was supplied with food and other needs. He took a real interest in the crew's welfare.
What about pay? I was retained by the crew's manning agency to help with this. The District Court recently ordered that the the crew's wages be paid out of the proceeds of the vessel's sale. As of this writing we are waiting on the funds to arrive.
How are they getting home? Fortunately, the shipowner was required to secure its ability to repatriate the crew. This is required by the Maritime Labour Convention. The U.S. is not a party to this convention, but the ship is Liberian-flagged and Liberia is a party. So a "protection and indemnity" club in Europe is assisting with repatriation. Of course, the coronavirus pandemic spread across the world while the crew was marooned here in Charleston. International travel arrangements are now a challenge, and I am told travelers from the U.S. face quarantine in the Philippines (where most of the crew are from). But the crew finally left the vessel yesterday and should be headed home in the next few days, depending on air connections.
The ship was the source of much humanitarian outreach in Charleston, from the Charleston Port and Seafarers Society, the local representative of the International Transportation Workers Federation, and local individuals and businesses.
I don't usually post about ongoing matters. But here, I am aware that the saga of the EVOLUTION and its crew is being followed by family, friends and well-wishers in Charleston, the Philippines and elsewhere. I hope this post is helpful and that the crew are close to journey's end.