Crewmembers Of Failed CNMI Shipping Vessel Sue Operator For Unpaid Wages

After seizure by U.S. Marshalls, MV Luta now a 'dead ship'

By Bryan Manabat 

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Nov. 11, 2016) – MV Luta crewmembers through their attorney David G. Banes sued the ship’s operator, Luta Mermaid LLC, over unpaid salaries and wages.

The crewmembers are Michael Brochon, Michael T. Harkreader, Roy Allen, John Hart, Henry Heisher, Joaquin Castro and Marlon Bambalan

Banes submitted to the federal court a motion to intervene on Nov. 7, 2016, referring to an ongoing lawsuit against Luta Mermaid LLC filed by Japanese investor Takahisa Yamamoto who said his former Rota partners owe him $3.4 million.

According to the crew, Luta Mermaid LLC promised to pay them in full but never did.

To date, crewmembers are owed as follows:

  • Michael Brochon, captain: $36,400
  • Michael Harkreader, chief mate, $30,102
  • Roy Allen, 2nd engineer, $7,500
  • Henry Heister, chief engineer, $34,000
  • John Hart, chief engineer, $17,875
  • Joaquin Castro, wiper, $55,874
  • Marlon Bambalan, able bodied seaman, $1,896

Banes said the crewmembers are entitled to the balance of earned wages pursuant to the shipping articles and contracts of employment.

“The total amount of past due basic wages is the minimum sum of $183,647.77. The exact amount of accumulated overtime is currently unknown.”

He said the MV Luta crew, beginning on or about April 5, 2016, made demands on Luta Mermaid LLC for their full wages and back pay in accordance with the terms of their contracts.

But the crew said Luta Mermaid LLC refused each and every demand for full wages.

They have not been paid their earned wages and salaries and therefore each crewmember has a maritime lien against the Luta Mermaid LLC, said Banes in his motion.

Luta Mermaid LLC, he added, is liable for the MV Luta crew’s unpaid wages, in at least the amount due to the crew under the highest rate of wages at the port of Saipan, plus the attorney’s fees that the MV Luta crew have incurred to date and are entitled to recover.

They are asking the federal court for relief and judgment against Luta Mermaid LLC.

They also want a judgment in favor of the crew for an amount equal to basic wages owed plus two days’ pay for each and every day in which payment has been delayed, compensatory and punitive damages for each crewmember and reasonable attorney’s fees, interests and costs.

Takahisa Yamamoto earlier sued his former partners in federal court for breach of contract, fraud and unjust enrichment. He is represented by attorney George Hasselback,

The defendants in the lawsuit are Abelina T. Mendiola, Deron T. Mendiola, Fidel S. Mendiola III, Fidel Mendiola Jr., Robert Toelkes and Lt. Gov. Victor B. Hocog.

Yamamoto asked the court to issue a warrant of arrest for MV Luta. He wants it condemned to be sold to pay his demands, including interest and costs. MV Luta has been seized by the U.S. Marshals Services which appointed National Maritime Services Inc. as the ship’s custodian.

Dead ship

On Thursday, the chief engineer of the vessel, John Hart, said he had shut down MV Luta adding that it is now a “dead ship.”

Hart said he is returning to Louisiana where he was hired by the Mendiolas.

According to Hart he turned off the engine of the ship at 10 a.m., Thursday.

“I don’t know what they will do with that ship. For me it’s dead already. I shut it down. No power, no generator. It can’t be used anymore.”

Hart was the only person aboard the ship when the U.S. Marshalls served a warrant last month and seized the vessel.

But he said Mike Smith, who serves as the custodian of the ship, was there when he shut down MV Luta on Thursday.

Hart said when he started working for MV Luta on Jan. 8, the company paid him for just two months.

He said National Maritime Services promised to retain his services, as well as those of two other crewmembers.

“They promised to take care of us, to retain our services and to pay our back wages. I was really hoping for that, but they just kept me in the dark and, up to this day, they did not fulfill that promise. They cannot keep me in the dark, and that’s why I did what I have to do.

“They told us everything would be okay, but that didn’t happen. They did not give me my demands. I called the authorities, but they told me to go ahead with my plan to shut it down because they didn’t want to be held responsible for that ship, and I am no longer responsible for that ship. Two captains and the chief mate have signed off already, and I’m the last crewmember to sign off and to abandon the ship. It’s over now.”

MV Luta was supposed to serve Rota by regularly shipping goods and commodities to the island.

In May, CNMI taxpayer John Del Rosario sued Hocog and Finance Secretary Larrisa C. Larson, in their official capacities, for the release of $400,000 in government funds to Luta Mermaid LLC which operated MV Luta.

Del Rosario’s complaint stated that the private corporation is owned by Hocog’s relatives and the $400,000 was released to the company without introducing it in the House of Representatives for proper appropriation.

Marianas Variety
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