Thursday, March 10, 2005

Three U.S. marshals boarded the whale-watching vessel American Dream at Kewalo Basin yesterday and ordered employees to disembark at about 11 a.m. Federal lawsuits filed Monday claim the owners defaulted on a loan secured in part by the boat.

Suits lead to seizure
of ill-fated tour boat

The star-crossed American Dream is headed for more misfortune.

The U.S. Marshals Service took custody of the 77-foot whale-watching boat yesterday at Kewalo Basin after a mainland lender alleged that the ship's owner defaulted on a $1.4 million loan.

The lender, General Electric Capital Corp., said in two lawsuits filed Monday in U.S. District Court that the boat's owner, Aquamarine (Hawaii) Inc., made no payments on the three-year loan it issued last August.

The suits asks that a federal judge condemn the American Dream and a sister tour boat, the Kona Dream, and authorize their sales to pay for the loan.

The seizure is the latest in a string of troubles to hit the tour boat operator.

On Christmas 2003 a 3-year-old Virginia boy died of head and neck injuries after the American Dream collided with a humpback whale off Diamond Head.

The boy's family reached a settlement with the tour operator last year.

That was followed by the death last month of a 22-year-old tourist from Japan, who jumped into the ocean during a whale-watching excursion off Oahu.

Mike Watson, Aquamarine's president, did not return calls to his office.

Mark Demarais, GE Capital's local attorney, also could not be reached.

In its suit, GE Capital said that the loan, which carried an annual interest rate of 9.55 percent, was secured by the American Dream and the Kona Dream.

The suit said the loan also was secured by three tour buses and by the commercial operating rights, or "slip rights," to berths at Kewalo Basin, Kailua-Kona and Maui.

In addition to the boats' sales, the company is asking that a judge place a lien on the tour buses and on Aquamarine's slip rights.

The seizure will have no impact on the settlement between Aquamarine and the family of 3-year-old Ryker Hamilton, who died on Christmas 2003 after the American Dream collided with a humpback whale, said Rick Fried, the attorney for the boy's family.

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