Good morning to Captain and crew alike and welcome to the Admiralty Docket. This is John Hughes Cooper with a glimpse into your rights and responsibilities at sea IMG_2318and upon the navigable waters.

Today our subject is speculation on the fate of the captain and crew of the M/V KAPETAN MARTINOVIC.

Public interest now focuses on the inadequate and unsanitary living conditions aboard the KAPETAN MARTINOVIC, a vessel stranded in the United States for 13 months, and at anchor in Charleston harbor since December. The crew is now reportedly without wages and the vessel now without adequate food, water, and basic provisions. As we consider the plight of the crew, the recent admiralty case of Milena Ship Management Co., Ltd. v. Newcomb, is instructive background reading.

Because of hostilities in the strife torn republic once known as Yugoslavia and in response to the resolutions of the United Nations, President Bush issued two executive orders imposing economic sanctions against Yugoslavia. In executive order 12808, the President blocked all property of the government of Yugoslavia in the United States. Executive order 12810 prohibited all imports from and exports to Yugoslavia.

Jugoslavanska Oceanska Plovidba (also known in shipping circles as “JOP”) is an old and established company owned and controlled by the Yugoslavian government. In May of 1992, JOP formed Milena Ship Management Co. under the laws of Malta to operate and manage certain JOP vessels, including the KAPETAN MARTINOVIC. At the same time, JOP formed another Maltese corporation, South Adriatic Bulk Shipping, Ltd., to own the KAPETAN MARTINOVIC. JOP transferred ownership of the KAPETAN MARTINOVIC to South Adriatic and registered the vessel to fly the Maltese flag.

In early July, 1992 the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control issued a notification that all entities located or organized in Serbia or Montenegro, and their foreign subsidiaries, were presumed to be owned or controlled by the government of Yugoslavia, and that their assets were blocked. The list of entities included JOP. Because the Maltese corporations were foreign subsidiaries of JOP, they were presumed, like JOP, to be owned or controlled by the Yugoslavian government.

Pursuant to this notification, the U. S. Customs Service blocked the M/Vs ZETA and MOSLAVINA in New Orleans, M/V KAPETAN MARTINOVIC then in Savannah, and M/V DURMITOR in Baltimore. The KAPETAN MARTINOVIC was allowed to move from Savannah to Charleston, but is not cleared to leave the United States.

Owners and managers of the KAPETAN MARTINOVIC have avoided their legal and moral responsibilities to the captain and crew, and so far it has paid off. However, the captain and crew of the KAPETAN MARTINOVIC have powerful legal rights and remedies under United States seamen’s wage statutes. Whether they know of their rights or not, and whether they will exercise them or not, are unknown. The United States Supreme Court in the 1920 case of Strathearn v. Dillon, held that federal seamen’s wage statutes apply to foreign seamen on foreign flag vessels when they enter our ports, as a condition of the right of such foreign vessels to enter and use the ports of the United States. Consider the high priority of maritime liens for seamen’s wages, the admiralty in rem procedures, the status of seamen as wards of the admiralty court, and our penalty wage statutes. The owners and managers may face enormous liability for their misdeeds. As living conditions aboard deteriorate, and as the crew remains unpaid for longer periods, what course of action, if any, the crew may take is unknown. However, the doors of the federal admiralty courts remain open wide to seamen, foreign and American alike.

More next week on The Admiralty Docket. Until then, remember your rights and responsibilities may change as you approach the shore and may God Almighty grant you pleasant sailing.

More next week on The Admiralty Docket. Until then, remember your rights and responsibilities may change as you approach the shore and may God Almighty grant you pleasant sailing.

If you have a question involving admiralty or maritime law, call us at 843-883-9099 or email us for a free, confidential consultation with no obligation.