Boat left at Massachusetts yard arrested in debt case

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A boat sued in court and later arrested?

Apparently.

At the beginning of last winter the owners of the Irish Piper brought their 41-foot wooden fishing boat from Maine to Gloucester Marine Railways in Massachusetts for repair and wharfage, then vanished, never returning to claim their boat or pay for the boatyard’s services.

“They never even checked on it and never came back,” Viking Gustafson, general manager of the railways, told the Gloucester Times. “It just got dumped at the dock.”

Gustafson said the Irish Pipers owners — listed in court documents as Keith Butterfield of New Bedford and Stephen Lozinak of Newbury — failed to respond to a litany of phone calls and correspondence seeking payment or the removal of the vessel.

So the business did what you might expect: It sued Butterfield and Lozinak in U.S. District Court in Boston for the more than $7,000 they owed for tending to the boat during the winter, including a pair of haulings to protect it from two of the season’s most severe storms.

“We had to continually check on the boat and hauled it twice because we didn’t want it to go to the bottom,” Gustafson said. “I didn’t want to go through this again this winter. Patience will out.”

The railways also did something you might not expect: It named the boat as a co-defendant in the suit and asked the U.S. Marshals Service to arrest the 46-year-old vessel, which was built in Camden, Maine, in 1969.

“In admiralty law you can sue individuals and you can also sue the boat itself because boats, like people, are responsible for their debts,” said Gloucester lawyer Stephen Ouellette, who is representing the railways in the matter. “Boats can also be arrested.”

The marshals executed the arrest warrant, and on Sept. 10 U.S. District Judge Allison D. Burroughs appointed the railways as the substitute custodian of the Irish Piper and directed the marshals to “surrender possession of said defendant vessel, her engines, tackle, apparel, furniture, equipment and all other necessaries” to the railways.

At this point, neither Gustafson nor Ouellette expect the owners — neither of whom could be reached for comment — to reclaim their boat or pay the tab.

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