A Northwest couple is among the owners of at least 30 boats who had to shell out thousands of dollars to retrieve their vessels after shipping company Yacht Path ran into financial problems.
Florida-based Yacht Path filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection March 20 after being unable to pay the freight on at least five shipments of boats arriving in ports in Florida, Hong Kong, Gibraltar and Vancouver.
San Juan Island residents Larry and Jayne Hemmerich, who are cruising on the East Coast, had no inkling of Yacht Path’s problems when they arranged late last year to have their boat shipped from Victoria, British Columbia to Port Everglades in Florida. They had used the company twice before to transport their boat and had no issues, so despite the departure date changing numerous times before the boat was finally loaded in late January, they weren’t concerned.
But things quickly went sideways after the Hemmerichs’ boat arrived in Florida with five others Feb. 23. The couple drove down to the port that morning, saw their boat on the freighter, MV BBC Vesuvius, and awaited word from Yacht Path about unloading.
The next morning, they still hadn’t heard from Yacht Path and went back to the harbor to see what was going on. They were shocked to discover that their boat was no longer on Vesuvius, and soon discovered that it had been seized, along with the five others, by U.S. Marshals and handed over to yacht liquidation company National Liquidators.
The Hemmerichs had to pay more than $4,000 to shipping company BBC Chartering to bail out their boat, on top of the fee they’d paid to Yacht Path in advance. Larry Hemmerich said Yacht Path Vice President Kevin Cummings did not return his calls and to date, he’s still not heard from the company.
“They just don’t care. They just walked away,” he said. “I’ll never do business with them again and I’ll do everything I can to make sure everybody knows that they shouldn’t do business with them.”
A few days after the boats on Vesuvius were arrested, the freighter MV Billesborg, owned by Danish company Nordana, arrived in Port Everglades with 16 boats onboard. Yacht Path President Dennis Cummings had notified the owners in advance, telling them that the company couldn’t pay the freight bill.
In an email, Cummings told boat owners that a recent legal action against the company had resulted in all of its bank accounts being frozen.
“As a result of this legal action we are unable to meet our financial obligations to this vessel [freighter] owner,” Cummings wrote. “To avoid costly detention and arrest charges it may be necessary for you to arrange payment directly to the vessel owner.”
Monica Burgess’s sister and brother-in-law’s yacht was on Billesborg, bound for Peru, where the couple lives. Burgess lives in Florida and helped her sister, who does not speak English, to pay the shipping company and arrange to have her boat sent via another company. Burgess said that between legal fees, moorage, customs paperwork and the cost of hiring a captain to pick the boat up and take it to another freighter, her sister and brother spent more than $53,000 extra.
“They have the money to do it. But can you imagine people who don’t have the money to do it?” she said. “They would lose their boats.”
At least five shipments of boats, including one to Vancouver, B.C.,, have been impacted by Yacht Path’s money problems, and numerous lawsuits have recently been filed against the company and its various corporate entities.
Dennis Cummings could not be reached for comment, and on Friday, no one was answering the phones at the company’s headquarters.
Robb Maass of Florida law firm Alley Maass Rogers & Lindsay represented the owners of three boats on Vesuvius. He said Dennis Cummings told him that Yacht Path’s accounts had been frozen after a failed merger or acquisition involving the company. But Maass said the frozen accounts did not contain nearly enough to cover the amount of freight due to various shipping companies.
“There’s something that doesn’t make sense, at least insofar as the information I’ve been given,” he said.
Maas said that Yacht Path is reportedly trying to come up with a revised system under which fees paid by boat owners would be put in escrow until their vessels are delivered, in an effort to reassure potential customers. The company can legally still be arranging boat deliveries, he said, though attracting customers will likely be difficult.
“It seems that with the notoriety that has come from these five [shipments], the likelihood that some innocent owner would sign up now is fairly remote,” he said.
Larry Hemmerich wants other boat owners to be aware so they don’t run into the same headache he and his wife did.
“People need to know,” he said. “[Yacht Path's owners] obviously don’t care about the business. If they have one after this, I’ll be greatly surprised.”