Boatyard drops case over Spirit of Bermuda

  • The Spirit of Bermuda sails into port at Hamilton Harbour (Photograph by Nicola Muirhead)

    The Spirit of Bermuda sails into port at Hamilton Harbour (Photograph by Nicola Muirhead)

A US boatyard has dropped its legal action against the charity that runs the sail training ship Spirit of Bermuda.

The Bermuda Sloop Foundation said it paid almost $45,000 to Rockport Marine “under duress” days after the lawsuit was launched last October.

A dismissal notice was filed in the case last Saturday.

The not-for-profit organisation added that it was “blindsided” by the lawsuit, lodged after an engine refit did not go to plan.

It said that programmes for young people suffered as a result of delays while repairs were carried out in the US.

Lawyers for Rockport Marine, in Rockport, Maine, later filed a complaint in a District Court in Portland.

They asked for a judgment in the company’s favour against the foundation “in the amount of its damages, together with interest, costs and reasonable attorney’s fees”.

Court staff confirmed on Monday: “On January 25, a notice of voluntary dismissal was filed by the plaintiff.

“The case is now closed.”

Jay Kempe, a founding member of the foundation and a director, said that the Spirit of Bermuda underwent a “major” ten-week refit at the Maine boatyard and that the company was paid $200,000 for the work last year.

He explained that after the vessel left Rockport Marine, it became apparent that there was an “overheating” problem, thought to be caused by misalignment of a new engine.

Mr Kempe said that it was agreed with the company that Fairhaven Shipyard, in Massachusetts, “the best option in Spirit’s then vicinity”, would perform remedial work.

He claimed that the arrangement included the proviso that the bill for the work would be sent to Rockport Marine.

Mr Kempe said: “Only after bills began to increase significantly at Fairhaven did Rockport renege on this process, filed its lawsuit and instructed Fairhaven to send its bills to BSF and not to Rockport, as had earlier been agreed with Rockport.

“Fairhaven eventually solved the overheating problem through the proper alignment of all related moving parts.”

He explained that the charity was “blindsided by the legal action”, which he said was launched while the Spirit of Bermuda was at the second yard “seeking a remedy to engine-related overheating problems with the full blessing of Rockport”.

Mr Kempe added that the BSF believed the fault was a result either of “failure by Rockport to oversee the new engine installation properly or substandard work by subcontractors”.

He said: “Fairhaven fulfilled its remedial brief and BSF paid its bills — $40,716.52 — before Spirit finally left for home.

Spirit was also at risk of being prevented from leaving the US until the final Rockport bills — $44,543.40 — were paid so we paid them too under duress and protest.”

Mr Kempe added: “BSF’s focus is and always will be our youth programmes, which were suffering due to these difficulties and delays and we could not allow the foundation to get caught up in litigation in the US.”

It was alleged in the complaint that the BSF asked Rockport Marine, which built the sloop, “to perform services, supply equipment and/or make repairs to the SV Spirit of Bermuda”.

The document claimed: “Rockport Marine did perform the work and provide the equipment and materials requested of it by BSF. Said services and work were carried out within the State of Maine.

“Despite demand, BSF has refused, and continues to refuse, to pay all amounts due Rockport Marine for the costs of the repairs, services and supplies.

“The total amount owed Rockport Marine by BSF as of October 14, 2019 is $44,543.40.”

The purpose-built sail training ship, based on schooners built between 1810 and 1840, was launched in August 2006 and became a national icon.

The BSF said last year that the ship’s “very significant marine regulatory compliance refit” came after 13 years of successful operation.

The ship’s main purpose is to provide five-day coastal expeditions for third-year middle school pupils.

The youngsters learn by experience, build social and emotional skills and get a good grounding in science, technology, engineering, arts and maths.

The foundation’s website added that the training trips were “embedded in the cultural and historical significance of Bermuda”.

Rockport Marine declined to comment this week and calls and e-mails to their lawyer were not returned.

It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. As we are legally liable for any slanderous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.

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