A legal dispute has recently emerged in Antigua and Barbuda, centered around the high-value auction of the motor vessel ‘Alfa Nero.’
The dispute raises critical questions about the transparency and adherence to auction procedures in the Caribbean nation and highlights the financial repercussions for the parties involved.
The saga began in March 2023 when representations made by the Prime Minister and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda suggested that the United States State Department had removed the ‘Alfa Nero’ from its sanctions list. However, this contradicted the vessel’s inclusion on the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) list.
In response to these representations, the claimant, Warren Halle, instructed M&T Bank to transfer a substantial sum of Ten Million United States Dollars ($10,000,000.00 USD) to the trust account of Moore & Co. in Coral Gables, Florida, with the intention of purchasing the vessel.
This transfer was deemed preliminary to making a deposit to the Government of Antigua and Barbuda for the acquisition of ‘Alfa Nero.’ However, these funds were subsequently seized by OFAC, citing the vessel’s continued presence on the sanctions list.
Financial and Personal Impact
As a result of these developments, Warren Halle incurred substantial costs and personal losses. He made two trips to Antigua and Barbuda, each at a cost of Seventy-Six Thousand Five Hundred United States Dollars ($76,500.00 USD) to finalize the vessel’s purchase.
Additionally, Halle engaged various professionals to navigate the complex process, including Gerry Ross for Two Hundred Thousand United States Dollars ($200,000.00 USD), local counsel Damien Benjamin for One Hundred and Fifty Thousand United States Dollars ($150,000.00 USD), and United States attorneys Moore & Company PA for One Hundred Thousand United States Dollars ($100,000.00 USD).
Moreover, he had to hire the former captain of the ‘Martha Ann’ to prepare the vessel for sailing, incurring a cost of Fifty Thousand United States Dollars ($50,000.00 USD). Vessel insurance and other incidentals, managed by Vanessa Matten, amounted to Twenty Thousand United States Dollars ($20,000.00 USD).
The delay in acquiring ‘Alfa Nero’ led to the loss of six weeks of charter in the Mediterranean, resulting in a cost of Eight Hundred Thousand United States Dollars ($800,000.00 USD) per week.
Over the last four months, Halle personally incurred losses totaling Two Hundred and Ten Thousand United States Dollars ($210,000.00 USD) due to the pursuit and preparation of the vessel for acquisition, including accommodation, transportation, and other incidentals in Antigua and Barbuda.
Legal Proceedings and Auction Outcome
The dispute escalated when, on 23rd May 2023, Halle was informed that the Prime Minister, Mr. Browne, did not possess the authority to sell him the vessel. Instead, adherence to the auction procedure and OFAC sanctions, to be provided by the Port Manager and the Port Authority, was necessary.
On 5th June 2023, the United States Department of Treasury returned the initial deposit of Ten Million United States Dollars ($10,000,000.00 USD) sent on 20th March, 2023, to the Government of Antigua and Barbuda for the purchase of ‘Alfa Nero.’
Subsequently, on 12th June 2023, Halle received an email from Mr. Darwin Telemaque, the Port Manager responsible for the auction of ‘Alfa Nero.’
Halle was invited to place a bid for the distressed and abandoned motor vessel, ‘Alfa Nero,’ anchored in Falmouth, St. Paul, Antigua and Barbuda. Halle submitted a bid of Sixty-Six Million United States Dollars ($66,000,000.00 USD) for the motor vessel in a sealed envelope, following the auction procedures provided by Port Manager Darwin Telemaque and the laws of Antigua and Barbuda.
The auction took place on June 16, 2023, with the procedures publicly disseminated by the Port Authority and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. The auction event was also broadcast live on the local television station, Antigua Broadcasting Station (ABS).
Despite Halle’s bid being recorded as the second-highest, with Mr. Eric Schmidt’s bid as the highest, Schmidt allegedly failed to comply with the auction procedure and the laws of Antigua and Barbuda.
Legal Actions and Claims
On 27th June 2023, Halle was informed that seven working days had passed since the auction, and he was advised to prepare for the finalization of the vessel’s purchase.
Halle expected to receive confirmation from the Port Manager that he was the owner of ‘Alfa Nero.’ In response, he instructed his local attorney to notify the Port Manager of his readiness to complete the purchase.
However, on 29th June 2023, Halle took a significant legal step by instructing his agent and attorney in Antigua and Barbuda to file an injunction preventing the sale of the motor vessel, ‘Alfa Nero,’ to Mr. Eric Schmidt, the highest bidder announced at the auction.
Halle contends that his right to purchase the vessel in accordance with the auction procedure and the laws of Antigua and Barbuda has been violated.
He argues that Mr. Eric Schmidt’s bid should be disqualified from the auction due to his failure to make the required payment to the Port Authority and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda within the stipulated seven working days.