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A ship seizure can be one of the most effective ways for a maritime supplier to force payment by a distant customer which has no presence in the supplier’s area except when its ships call.  Under federal maritime law, such a plaintiff may attach a defendant’s property if four conditions are met:  (1) plaintiff has a valid prima facie admiralty claim against the defendant; (2) defendant cannot be found within the federal court district; (3) property of the defendant can be found within that district; and (4) there is no statutory or maritime law bar to the attachment.  In a recent case, an unpaid supplier of $22 million worth of bunker fuel (heavy oil burned for ship’s power) lost its initially successful ship seizure because it was unable to demonstrate a valid contract claim against the ship’s owner.  The supplier had sold through a broker for the benefit of the owner’s ships, but the broker became insolvent and did not pay the supplier.  Despite a flurry of letters, invoices, emails and the like which clearly showed which ships asked for and got the fuel, the court found there was no demonstration of an actual written contract between the supplier and the ship owner.  So if someone has to suffer the loss, it is the supplier, which had no direct written contract with the ship owner, and accordingly cannot seize the owner’s ship.  (Equitorial Marine Fuel Management Services PTE Ltd., v. MISC Berhad, 9th Circuit No. 08-57046, January 11, 2010)

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