Marshals seize America's Cup champ's boat in contract spat

Ben Margot/AP File PhotoFederal marshals say they have seized Oracle Team USA's prototype boat in San Francisco in response to a lien filed by Joe Spooner.

Ben Margot/AP File PhotoFederal marshals say they have seized Oracle Team USA's prototype boat in San Francisco in response to a lien filed by Joe Spooner.

SAN DIEGO — Federal marshals seized America's Cup champion Oracle Team USA's prototype boat in San Francisco on Monday, before it could be shipped out of the country, in response to a lien filed by a fired sailor.

Marshals went to the team's base at Pier 80 and determined that the souped-up, 45-foot catamaran and its various components and wing sail were in three shipping containers the team was preparing to send to Bermuda.

Marshals Service spokesman Frank Conroy said the containers were stickered and locked.

In maritime law terms, the boat was arrested.

Conroy said marshals believe the confiscated boat is the catamaran known as 4 Oracle Team USA.

He said marshals had a “very pleasant exchange” with syndicate members.

“We didn't get the feeling of anyone trying to hide anything from us,” Conroy said.

In a filing Friday, Oracle attorney David E. Russo said the boat that fired sailor Joe Spooner wants confiscated to satisfy the lien was sold to a French syndicate in December.

However, a photo taken shortly after Team France took possession of that boat shows it has hull No. 5. The boat sought by Spooner has the hull No. 4.

In an earlier filing, Oracle contended boat No. 4 hadn't been launched during Spooner's tenure with the team. Oracle argued that the boat was mismarked and although it said 4 on the hull, it was actually boat No. 5. Spooner provided evidence showing him sailing and repairing the vessel in question.

The dispute will return to federal court, where Spooner is seeking at least $725,000 in a wrongful termination suit.

“It is a match race and we have the lead at the first mark,” Spooner's attorney, Patricia Barlow, said in an email to The Associated Press.

The catamaran was built to foil, or ride up on hydrofoils once it reaches a certain speed. Oracle tested the boat on San Francisco Bay in February as it prepares to build a 62-foot catamaran that will be used to defend the America's Cup in 2017 in Bermuda. Foiling 72-foot catamarans were used in the America's Cup in 2013, when Oracle Team USA rallied from an 8-1 deficit to win eight straight races and defeat Emirates Team New Zealand.

Spooner, a New Zealander, sued Oracle Team USA last month, saying his contract for $25,000 a month was terminated without cause in January. He was a grinder with Oracle Team USA during its America's Cup victories in 2010 and 2013.

Chief Magistrate Joseph Spero denied Spooner's initial complaint on Feb. 23, but said he could file an amended complaint. Barlow filed an amended complaint Friday and clerk Richard Wieking issued a warrant later that day.

Barlow said Spooner had obtained a visa that required him to be working under a fixed-term contract, and that Oracle argued that the sailor had an at-will contract.

Besides the visa issue, Spooner's complaint alleges that Oracle Team USA retaliated against him for asking if his monthly salary could be raised to $38,000 to cover the expense of relocating his family from New Zealand to Bermuda. Spooner was offered a $4,000 a month relocation housing allowance, but said it would cost around $7,500 a month for suitable housing for his family, as well as other expenses to live on the island for the America's Cup cycle.

Oracle Team USA is owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison, who is not named in Spooner's suit.

Marshals said this was the second time an America's Cup catamaran was “arrested” in San Francisco. In 2012, marshals seized a French team's cat during a dispute over a salvage claim after the boat broke free from its mooring.

America’s CupJoe SpoonerOracle Team USA

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