A dozen former crew members of the Cayman-registered superyacht Pelorus, owned by Samathur Li Kin Kan, son of Hong Kong property billionaire Samuel Tak Lee, is bringing a claim in the Grand Court for unpaid wages and benefits in a dispute that has been dragging on for months.
The 115-metre-long yacht was detained by authorities in Montenegro in March after the owner allegedly failed to settle all financial obligations to the crew, suppliers and the luxury marina of Porto Montenegro, where the $250 million vessel has been moored since December 2020.
The marina claimed EUR200,000 in mooring fees and the international crew sued for four months of unpaid wages before a commercial court in Podgorica, after the staff was sacked and replaced by a local captain and five Montenegrin crew members.
One of the original crew members told the Daily Mail in March that most of the 35-strong crew were informed on Christmas Eve 2020 that they were out of a job and the vessel was to be “left to rot”.
He claimed the superyacht’s owner owed a string of debts all over Europe, as well as in Montenegro.
In response, Li Kin Kan released a statement to the British newspaper, through the law firm Taylor Wessing, stating the Pelorus had been and remained fully funded throughout the ownership of his company.
Li Kin Kan claimed he was the victim of “extortion” and “price-gouging” that had befallen many aspects of yacht ownership in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as many owners were unable to access their yachts due to travel restrictions.
He said, “I believe the parties involved have sought to unjustifiably and unfairly discredit the running of the Pelorus such that in the current circumstances it cannot reasonably attract and retain sufficiently qualified crew for its minimum manning, without the company accepting their unreasonable and unjustifiable costs.”
Even before the pandemic, operating a superyacht cost millions each year in crew salaries, maintenance and repairs, insurance, docking fees and fuel.
Industry publications estimated the annual running costs of Pelorus to be as high as US$15-$20 million.
On 9 July, 12 crew members filed a claim in the Admiralty Division of the Grand Court against BVI-registered MVVWM LTD, as owner of the yacht M.Y. Pelorus, for unpaid wages, repatriation benefits, accrued vacation time, notice period pay, penalty wages, expenses and interest.
The claim is made under their seafarer employment agreements for February and March 2021 and under Cayman’s Merchant Shipping Act.
Under the law, the discharged crew of a Cayman Islands ship must be paid in full either on discharge or at the time of their next regular pay interval.
A database maintained by the International Labour Organization shows that over the years there have been hundreds of cases of seafarers left stranded and without pay by shipowners. But typically they involve cargo ships or fishing vessels, and not superyachts owned by billionaires.
Pelorus was built by German shipyard Luerrsen in 2003. It was first commissioned by a Saudi Arabian businessman who immediately sold it to Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, owner of the Premier League football team Chelsea FC.
Abramovich’s wife Irina received the yacht in 2009 as part of her divorce settlement and sold it to Hollywood media mogul and billionaire David Geffen. After having changed hands one more time, Pelorus was bought in 2006 by Samuel Tak Lee.
The yacht, which has two helipads, can accommodate 18 guests and 42 crew. It has a fuel range of 6,000 nautical miles at an average speed of 16 knots.
In recent years, the Pelorus has sailed mainly in the Mediterranean.
Current owner Li Kin Kan garnered media attention in 2011 for the most expensive divorce settlement in Asia. A Hong Kong court ordered the real estate investor to pay $154 million to his wife Florence Tsang Chiu-wing.
Cayman is the world’s preferred flag state for ultra-large yachts of more than 80 metres in length with a market share of more than 80%. In the superyacht segment for vessels larger than 30 metre, Cayman ranks second in the world.
Cayman does not charge value added tax (VAT) or duties on the sale of a vessel. In other countries VAT can be as high as 15%-25% of the purchase price.