AHL Shipping tanker arrested over fuel bill
Bunkers International takes legal action over bills totalling $609,000
Bunkers International has secured an arrest order against AHL Shipping"s Jones Act petroleum tanker Anasazi in Florida, over unpaid fuel bills of $609,000 on this vessel and another AHL Shipping tanker, Monseigneur.
The arrest order, issued on Thursday, casts a new cloud over the Texas-based AHL Shipping, which is already facing multiple other crises, including the bankruptcies of three arm"s-length entities through which it was building new-generation tankers, and AHL Shipping"s own default on bonds guaranteed by the US Maritime Administration.
AHL Shipping operates a fleet of four mid-1990s built Jones Act petroleum tankers, Anasazi , Capt HA Downing , New River and Monseigneur.
According to sources, the ships have reverted to MarAd, and MarAd would sort out the matter of the unpaid bunker bill. AHL Shipping is understood to be technically defunct, although no official liquidation has yet been set in motion.
In 2007, the company secured long-term charters from Shell, on the back of which three tankers based on an innovative shallow draught concept were ordered at $124m each. This newbuilding project was to use the ?virtual shipyard? concept, in which multiple facilities would build modules and Atlantic Marine Alabama would handle fabrication and assembly.
The project went up in smoke last December after a protracted dispute with AMA. The three one-ship companies, Dos Raven, Kent Steel and First Mesa, filed for Chapter 11 protection. Compass Maritime, the New Jersey broking house, in February this year was appointed to find buyers for the 90%, 55%, and 30% complete hulls. Shell pulled out of the charters earlier this year as well.
AHL Shipping had insisted in December that the demise of the three one-ship companies would not affect its own business. However, in January, AHL Shipping defaulted on servicing bonds that had financed its four existing ships.
The US Maritime Administration, which had guaranteed these bonds through the Title XI programme, spent about $90m to pay off the bondholders.
Bunkers International"s lawsuit states that as part of this rescue, AHL Shipping agreed to surrender the four ships, including the Anasazi , to Marad for foreclosure. The refueller now has invoked its maritime lien on the Anasazi , and moved to arrest the ship before it ends up in Marad"s possession.
The claimed dues include $297,000 worth of fuel supplied to Anasazi on March 20 in Bolivar Road, Texas. The lawsuit mentions another overdue bunker bill of some $312,000 on Monseigneur . Lawyers for the plaintiff invoked Rule C of US civil procedure to secure the arrest of the ship that is found in Jacksonville, and Rule B to secure any AHL Shipping assets as may be found in the legal district.
Meanwhile, AHL Shipping faces additional problems.
Last month, it was served a $1.2m lawsuit in Louisiana by Ardent Services, which provided electrical and instrumentation equipment on the aborted newbuilding project. Even if the tankers were ordered on a separate shipowning entity"s account, AHL Shipping is liable to settle its unpaid dues, Ardent has argued.
Separately, AHL Shipping"s bond default and bailout by Marad has caused its trade rivals to demand that the company be made to go out of business. These rivals have claimed that by operating its ships at ?below breakeven?, AHL Shipping would undercut already weak rates and undermine their own business.
AHL Shipping has fought back, saying that its continued existence is necessary to maintain healthy competition in the Jones Act trades, as well as to protect some 400 workers whose livelihoods are linked with AHL Shipping"s fate.