The Repo Man -- large ocean-going ship category

Fascinating story in the LA Times about a guy who repossess large vessels -- freighters, cargo ships, etc...

This repo man drives off with ocean freighters
It's a rare specialty that can be dangerous, given parts of the world in which he must operate.

If repossessing a used Chevrolet can be tricky, consider retrieving the Aztec Express, a 700-foot cargo ship under guard in Haiti as civil unrest spread through the country.

Only a few repo men possess the guile and resourcefulness for such a job. One of them is F. Max Hardberger, of Lacombe, La. Since 1991, the 58-year-old attorney and ship captain has surreptitiously sailed away about a dozen freighters from ports around the world.

"I'm sure there are those who would like to add me to a list of modern pirates of the Caribbean, but I do whatever I can to protect the legal rights of my clients," said Hardberger, whose company, Vessel Extractions in New Orleans, has negotiated the releases of another dozen cargo ships and prevented the seizures of many others.

His line of work regularly takes him to a corner of the maritime industry still plagued by pirates, underhanded business practices and corrupt government officials, waters the Aztec Express sailed right into.v
The saga began in 2003 when the vessel's Greek owner died and his company did not keep up payments on a $3.3-million mortgage.

Bahamian court records show that an American businessman who had used the vessel to haul 235 used cars from the northeastern United States to Haiti did not pay the charter fee, contributing to the loan default.

Once the ship arrived in the Haitian port of Miragoane, the businessman bribed judicial officials to seize the vessel and sell it to him in a rigged auction, according to court records.

Meanwhile, a violent rebellion threatened to topple President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, making it impossible for the lender or the owner's relatives to contest the sale.

The condition of the Aztec Express further complicated matters. Its main engines were out of commission, having been idle and untended for months.

Hardberger was hired by the New Jersey-based mortgage holder. He flew to Haiti and drove with an armed bodyguard to Miragoane.

It is a long (3 pages) and fun to read adventure. Here's a little bit about how the Hatian repo went down:

Second, port authorities had a cellphone, but they could use it only at the harbor's soccer field, where cellular service was reliable.

And:

In case harbor officials noticed and tried to call for help on their cellphone, Hardberger had paid a witch doctor $100 to cast spells on the port's soccer field. The witch doctor marked the field with gray powder, a clear warning to believers in voodoo, the nation's dominant religion. No call ever went out.

Very cool example of culture jamming... Sounds like a fun person to meet for a beer or two, probably has lots of great stories.

repo-man-ocean-vessels.jpg

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This page contains a single entry by DaveH published on March 1, 2007 5:31 PM.

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