Bill enabling controversial sale of yacht passes the Senate, with Minority Leader pointing to conflict with international laws

The Port Authority Amendment Bill 2023 has passed the Upper House without amendment, even as United Progressive Party (UPP) Senator and Minority Leader Shawn Nicholas expressed concern about the legislation.

The Gaston Browne Administration is seeking to sell the Russian oligarch-owned mega yacht, the Alfa Nero, which has been docked in Falmouth Harbour for over a year.

The 269-foot super yacht is posing some dangers, including to the environment, in the case of a hurricane or other natural disasters, the Browne Cabinet claims.

The Bill allegedly makes provisions for better security of ports and harbours in Antigua and Barbuda, and also gives the Government the right to seize any vessel that is facing international sanctions and has been left stranded in the country’s waters.

According to the Bill, the Government can dispose of the vessel via sale after a notice has been published for 10 days, and keep the proceeds – in spite of any liens that might be attached to the vessel.

Now, with the passing of the amendment, and once the Bill has been gazetted and becomes law, the Government can auction the vessel.

But Senator Nicholas, in her contribution to the debate, says the Government is giving itself priority in claiming monies from the sale, ahead of other creditors to whom the owners of the vessel might have a financial obligation.

Further, Nicholas says, certain sections of the Bill seem to be in conflict with international maritime laws.

The UPP senator notes that Section 47 of this country’s own Merchant Shipping Act, 2006, speaks to the interest of a mortgage in a ship, and of this obligation being transmitted in case of a death or insolvency.

In this regard, Nicholas says, the charge must take priority, and it should not be that the proceeds go to the Government and then everyone else’s interest is considered after.

The Minority Leader says the Merchant Shipping Act also addresses the issue of how wrecks should be dealt with, and that such proceeds must be held by the Port Authority for three years before any decision on its disbursement.

Nicholas reminds her colleagues that Antigua and Barbuda is a signatory to a number of conventions that have been enshrined in some national laws and should be upheld.

Therefore, she recommended that a special committee be put in place to review the Bill before it was passed into law; however, it passed the committee stage without amendments.