Experts working for seafarers’ rights act in concert to provide professional legal services for seafarers around the globe. At times, certain cases are referred to the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) that require special proficiency and knowledge. Last year, SCI contacted one of the world’s largest law firms, Holland & Knight, for a case involving US Customs procedures and Indian seafarer Advino Fernandes. Attorneys from Holland & Knight succeeded in restituting earnings seized by US Customs totaling nearly $30,000.
Mr. Fernandes, an Indian citizen working outside of his native country, was employed aboard a Celebrity Cruises vessel in 2007. After an extended period away from his family, he planned to return to his wife and newborn child. His earnings would pay the mortgage on the family’s house. The delay Mr. Fernandes would face in the coming year, however, could have destroyed the life he had worked to build for his family.
As he was setting off for home, the bulk of Mr. Fernandes’ money was seized by US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). The earnings, from gratuities and wages without US tax documents, put up a red flag at the customs checkpoint when Mr. Fernandes completed exit forms. Without proof and precise accounting, CBP would not allow the seafarer to take with him the remuneration from months of work.
Holland & Knight attorney Ron Oleynik along with associate Farhad Alavi and the help of senior legal secretary Ily Reis took on Mr. Fernandes’ case when SCI asked for their assistance. It would take months of assembling documentation, legal support, and verification that Mr. Fernandes was not liable for US or Indian taxes. The work was made all the more difficult by Mr. Fernandes’ continuing work at sea.
Nearly 16 months later, justice for this seafarer was served. Thanks to the work of the Holland & Knight attorneys, CBP agreed to return the monies seized from Mr. Fernandes. The funds were delivered to pay his creditors before default.
“The team at SCI is much larger than the people who show up to work at our facilities each day,” said the Rev. David M. Rider, President & Executive Director of SCI. “SCI really depends on a worldwide association with others to ensure that no one who comes to us is without help. Firms like Holland & Knight allow SCI to offer excellence in its services to seafarers around the world.”
SCI Board of Trustees member Chet Hooper referred this case to Holland & Knight. Mr. Hooper is a Partner at the firm, practicing in the Maritime Litigation Practice Group.