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From the Miami Herald -

Cargo vessel seized by feds

A Panamanian-flagged cargo vessel was seized by U.S. marshals Wednesday after 10 crew members sued to obtain a combined $33,159 in wages they say they are owed.
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U.S. marshals on Wednesday seized the Panamanian-flagged cargo vessel Antares at Port Everglades after some crew members filed a lawsuit alleging they have not been paid their full wages.

Ten crew members said in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal admiralty court that they are owed a combined $33,159 in wages. U.S. District Judge Shelby Highsmith Sr. signed the order for the vessel's arrest.

Cash-strapped shipping companies will sometimes spend the money earmarked for crew wages on equipment to keep a ship seaworthy, said Ross B. Toyne, a Miami maritime lawyer who filed the eight-page lawsuit on behalf of 10 of the crew members -- nine Ukrainians and a Romanian. Three other crew members are not part of the suit.

''We've got to start getting tough with second-tier shipping companies that won't pay their bills,'' Toyne said. ``If you don't go after them, then you end up with the crew not being paid at all.''

Toyne said he intends to file a court motion today to have the 363-foot vessel sold at auction.

The Antares' registered owner is Cometa United Corp, according to

A contact couldn't immediately be located. The ship's manager is Intersea Management. Its Switzerland office was closed Wednesday afternoon.

The crew members claim in the lawsuit that they were deceived into leaving their homes to work on the Antares.

The crew says when they arrived at the vessel in Spain, they were forced to execute different employment agreements that paid less than they were promised -- otherwise they faced being removed from the ship in a foreign port with no money to travel home.

Toyne said one crew member was supposed to be paid $2,100 for 25 days of work, but only received about $917. The Antares hired the Ukrainian crew after it lost a Spanish crew that refused to sign a new employment contract, Toyne said.

Admiralty law is generally very protective of seamen, said Domingo Rodriguez, a Coral Gables admiralty lawyer who primarily represents ship owners and is not involved in the Antares dispute. He described the arrest of a vessel as ``somewhat uncommon.''

''When a vessel gets arrested, it generally focuses the owner's attention,'' said Rodriguez of Rodriguez, Aronson & Essington. ``If they have the ability to pay it, in my experience, they generally will pay the claim [because] they want their vessel to be able to sail.''

Last year Toyne obtained a warrant to arrest the gaming ship St. Tropez Casino Cruises near Port Everglades after its 160-person crew had not been paid. The crew, from the Philippines, Latin American and Europe, claimed they were owed about $300,000.

St. Tropez was eventually sold at a Fort Lauderdale courthouse auction to a buyer represented by Monaco-based V. Ships for $3.8 million.

Port Everglades' website lists V. Ships as the ship's agent for the Antares. A V. Ships spokesman had no information regarding the Antares' arrest.

The Antares arrived Monday at Port Everglades with a load of cement from Europe. It had been slated to depart Wednesday night.

Besides their wages, the 10 crew members want the ship's owner to pay for their return trips home.

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