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Oracle’s boat released by marshals

A legal battle between sacked sailor Joe Spooner and Oracle Racing took another twist this week after a federal judge ordered US marshals to release the team's foiling AC45 catamaran from custody.

This is the second time a judge has denied an arrest order on the boat. On March 6 a court clerk issued a warrant to arrest the vessel without judicial review in response to a maritime lien filed by Spooner, whose contract with the US America's Cup racing syndicate was terminated in January.

Three days later US marshals arrested three shipping containers containing AC45 components at Oracle's Pier 80 headquarters in San Francisco. Oracle Racing filed a Request for Release the same day of the arrest.

After hearing arguments from both sides at a hearing on March 17 at the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, judge Joseph C Spero granted Oracle's request to have their boat released.

The judge's ruling, however, has no effect on Spooner's in personam claims against Oracle Racing, whom he is seeking unpaid wages and damages for alleged wrongful termination of his contract.

In the amended complaint, Spooner filed e-mails with the court indicating that Oracle Racing released him because he was getting too old to compete.

In all, the sailor is seeking the arrest, condemnation and sale of Oracle's AC45 and its equipment, wages of $725,000 and double wage penalties, punitive damages, interests, costs of suit, reimbursement of the $2,995 costs associated with obtaining his work visa and attorney's fees.

According to American Maritime law, a vessel can be held until a bond is posted if a sailor is owed wages for work already performed.

Spooner maintains that Oracle Racing built only one 4 Oracle Team USA catamaran that he sailed and worked on as part of his contract and that the same vessel had been arrested by US marshals.

However, judge Spero ruled that Spooner's contract is not sufficiently tied to any specific vessel to support a maritime lien, paving the way for Oracle's AC45 to begin its journey to its Bermuda base under construction at the Royal Naval Dockyard.

The judge further ruled that Spooner's visa is not sufficiently tied to any specific vessel to support a maritime lien. Spooner served for 11 years as a sailor with Oracle Racing and its predecessor organisations, winning the America's Cup with the team in 2010 and 2013.

Flying: Spithill, the Oracle Team USA skipper, is encouraged by the performance of the team's AC45 prototype catamaran during tests in San Francisco last month (Photo courtesy of Oracle Team USA)

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Published March 20, 2015 at 3:02 pm (Updated March 22, 2015 at 1:23 am)

Oracle’s boat released by marshals

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