Crew on ‘abandoned’ superyacht win unpaid wages after court case

Alfa Nero

The crew of ‘abandoned’ superyacht Alfa Nero will receive more than a year in unpaid wages following an Antiguan High Court judgement.

The 81.3-metre Oceanco superyacht Alfa Nero (pictured above) has been moored at Antigua Yacht Club Marina since February 2022. The vessel was blocked from leaving pending a search to confirm whether its ultimate owner appeared on sanction lists following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Alfa Nero is widely reported to be owned by sanctioned Russian businessman and Putin associate Andrey Guryev, but this has not been proven.

However, the government says the search for the ultimate owner has proved unsuccessful, and the vessel — which has not been maintained since it was left behind — has been at the centre of many legal wrangles. The country is evidently keen to wash its hands of the vessel, which is said to be costing the authorities US$112,000 a month in maintenance fees.

Last year, Nautilus International (a trade union representing maritime professionals in the UK, Netherlands and Switzerland) was contacted by the crew after they failed to receive owed wages. The union arrested the yacht in an attempt to recover the money both for original crew members and those who continued onboard or were hired as part of the skeleton crew between March 2022 and April 2023. The vessel was declared seized on 11 April 2023.

Flying Dutchman Overseas Ltd is the registered owner of the vessel. The firm had not given instruction on the maintenance of the vessel nor the management of staff when it was seized, causing controversy over whether the captain was correct to lay off staff.

The case against the owner was brought before the High Court of Antigua and Barbuda by Nautilus and Captain Christopher Malcolm Lewis (on behalf of crew) in September 2023. 

Non-unionised crew members filed a separate claim seeking payment of €439,000. The combined payment sought totalled around €2.7m. Further claims for travel expenses, gratuity, crew training and attorney fees were rejected.

“This judgment is a massive win for us and the Alfa Nero crew, and it was the result of months of hard work. It is an outcome we are immensely proud of, and one we aim to replicate for those in need in the future,” says Nautilus’ director of legal services, Charles Boyle.

“Although some crew may be slightly disappointed as they wanted to be successful on all aspects of the claims, securing payment for over a year’s worth of wages for our members is an amazing result. This is especially true given the context of the Russian sanctions, which has been a completely new legal territory for everyone.”

Crew will receive payment at the rates originally agreed upon in their contracts. The judge did not grant any pay increase given between 17 March 2022 and 10 April 2023, and dismissed claims of double pay.

The timing of the payment was not established in the judgment. Usually unpaid wages are funded through the sale of the vessel but the government of Antigua and Barbuda has already attempted to auction the vessel once (see below). However, the judgment does secure the payment for members.

Attempted auction of Alfa Nero

In June 2023, Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, purchased Alfa Nero at auction for $67.6m — said to be around 50 per cent discount on the vessel’s value.

However, in September, Schmidt formally withdrew his bid due to ongoing legal complications and doubts about securing a ‘clear title’ for the vessel. This was complicated by a claim from Guryev’s daughter that she is the vessel’s true owner and that the seizure and sale was therefore illegal.

In a further twist, American billionaire Warren Halle — who placed the second-highest bid had been the most likely to receive the yacht’s title after Schmidt — also launched a lawsuit against the government of Antigua and Barbuda, alleging that he was not informed by Antigua that the yacht was under sanctions or considered blocked property.

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