The 74-foot Sunseeker that was placed “under arrest” at the end of last year’s Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show was released by a federal judge to Sunseeker U.S.A., according to a report by South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
The yacht was confiscated by local authorities under federal maritime law after South Florida contractor Kevin Turner sued Sunseeker International, its U.S. subsidiary Sunseeker U.S.A. and former dealer Rick Obey and Associates. Turner claimed a dispute in ownership rights.
Turner, who put down a $4 million deposit for the yacht, told the newspaper he had been caught in a “financial musical chairs” that Sunseeker and Obey had played for years.
Obey took deposits from buyers and sent the money to Sunseeker, the story noted. The builder then applied those funds to boats it was finishing for earlier buyers. At times, the money was applied toward boats that Sunseeker sold Obey on spec.
In May 2018, one of the engines blew on a boat Obey had sold to another client, Obey said in the lawsuit, but Sunseeker declined to reimburse Obey for repair costs. This caused Obey to fall behind with payments to Sunseeker, Turner said.
Sunseeker said in its own legal filings that Obey never paid the full balance for Turner’s boat. Obey then said he told Sunseeker to apply $4 million he had paid the company to Turner’s boat and release the vessel to him. Tired of the back and forth, Turner sued Obey and Sunseeker last spring in state court.
Turner later filed a federal suit requesting that the boat be placed “under arrest” by U.S. marshals. Arresting a vessel is rare but is routine procedure, under global maritime law, when ownership disputes arise, according to the newspaper.
Sunseeker later filed a motion seeking the boat’s release. The builder said Turner did not have a legal claim to it under federal maritime law. The federal judge agreed, stating that a sale contract does not bestow rights of ownership. The judge ruled that Turner did not show that he had legal title to the yacht.
Obey never made a full and final payment to Sunseeker, “so title to the vessel never passed to [Obey] or [Turner],” the ruling stated. Turner is a victim, added the judge, of Obey’s “undeniable breach of the purchase agreement.”
When asked about the judgment, Obey, in an email to the Sun-Sentinel, said, “Sunseeker International is currently holding [$4 million] on behalf of Rick Obey and Associates. [We] have instructed Sunseeker International to apply the balance owed and release Mr. Turner’s yacht.”
Turner plans to continue his state court case against Obey and Sunseeker. Sunseeker USA noted in a statement that it “properly asserted that the court was without jurisdiction and was entitled to the return of its vessel.”
“As much as [Sunseeker] would like to think that this is over, it’s not,” Turner told the newspaper.