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Virtual Auction Nets A Buyer For Detained Ship In Charleston Harbor

As many of you know, I have an LLM in Maritime Law.  therefore, when a big (literally huge) event occurs in Charleston, SC it excites me.  Recently, The M/V Evolution, which has loomed on the horizon of the Charleston Harbor since late January, was sold at auction.

Working virtually in our modern age, It took some modern-day technology, an unusual legal venue, and about 15 minutes to auction off the 505-foot freighter.

The U.S. Marshals Service, working with a British ship broker, dropped the gavel Tuesday morning for the M/V Evolution, a Liberian-flagged cargo vessel entangled in an international business squabble.

A consortium of insurers demanded that the freighter be sold to pay for a shipment of iron that was damaged on the high seas between Iran and Indonesia, where it was offloaded. They were seeking to recoup $1.45 million from the Evolution’s owner, according to a lawsuit they filed in federal court earlier this year.

The government detained the ship on Jan. 31, a day after it arrived in South Carolina. Then U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel allowed the sale to go forward last month.

A few maritime lawyers and a handful of other onlookers gathered under sunny skies to take in the action from the parking lot at the J. Waties Waring Judicial Center in downtown Charleston. The bidding was streamed on Zoom via an Apple laptop computer placed on the trunk of the attorney car.

The captain of the Evolution, which is anchored off the Battery, watched it all unfold in real time just offshore through a FaceTime connection.

Dennis Suszko, a deputy with the Marshals Service, kicked off the auction by going over the court-ordered ground rules. The bidding was to start at $1.25 million and climb in increments of at least $10,000.

The 25-year-old cargo ship attracted at least four would-be buyers, though the exact number wasn’t disclosed. Just two of them participated.

Wickwar Shipping was declared the high bidder. It offered $1.34 million for the Evolution.

It’s unclear what will become of the 21 mariners who are stuck on the ship for the last four months. They could be rehired by the new owner or return home, though that could be tricky because many don’t have the immigration documents they’d need to enter the U.S. to board a commercial airplane. Most are from the Philippines.

The crew members are expected to be paid with proceeds from the auction, said their attorney. They’re owed more than $355,000 in back wages, according to a recent court filing.

Some of the stranded sailors haven’t left the ship in more than a year, said Corey Connor, a Charleston-based inspector with the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

“It’s been a long time coming, that’s for sure,” he said of their eventual return to dry land.

He said morale on the Evolution is as good as can be expected under the circumstances, though some crew members are handling the lengthy confinement “better than others.”

Amazing to see the wheels of justice turn.  In this one situation, you have insurance law, civil law, immigration law, employment law, and maritime law intermingling.  Thus the importance in having an attorney or a firm that can view your situation from many different angles, like Goldfinch Winslow.  We work hard to have a team of professionals that truly analyzes your case from all different angles and provided you with sound legal advice.  Call us should you ever have a need or a question.

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