Irish courts can decide dispute over arrested €1.2m motor pleasure boat, High Court rules

The Irish courts have jurisdiction to decide a dispute over an arrested motor pleasure boat bought for more than €1.2m by a company of an Irish-born tax lawyer, a High Court judge has ruled.

The M.V. Connoisseur was arrested last August on foot of a High Court order and remains moored in Dun Laoghaire port.

The 17.29-metre vessel was built in 2017 and was bought for commercial purposes for some €1.26m by Conway Club Limited (CCL), incorporated in early 2017, with registered offices in London.

CCL is legally and beneficially owned by Kevin Conway, a tax lawyer who is Irish born but an English resident for more than 20 years, Mr Justice Denis McDonald said.

Mr Conway was a director of CCL up to November 6, 2017, not long after he was adjudicated a bankrupt in the English courts on the petition of UK Revenue & Customs, he said.

CCL had agreed in 2017 to buy the M.V. Connoisseur from MGM Boats of Dun Laoghaire for €1.265m.

A French company, S.G.B. Finance S.A, (SGB) part-financed the purchase under a loan agreement under which it agreed to lend €822,250.

That agreement is governed by the law of England and Wales and was secured by a deed which created security, among other things, over any earnings of the vessel and by a personal guarantee of Mr Conway's.

The agreement was also intended to be secured by a mortgage over the vessel, the judge noted.

After CCL fell into arrears from January 2018 on monthly loan instalments, SGB issued demands and warned it would take all necessary action to enforce its mortgage.

Mr Conway had sent a draft copy of a proposal for an Individual Voluntary Agreement, similar to a Personal Insolvency Arrangement, to SGB on July 6 last, predating the arrest of the vessel.

Mr Conway had said the vessel was with MGM Boats in Dublin for purposes of sale which should enable CCL to repay its debts to him in full after the sale proceeds were used to extinguish the amount due to SGB.

In August 2018, SGB issued proceedings against the owners and all persons claiming an interest in the vessel claiming some €797,000 was due and owing to it under the loan agreement with CCL.

On August 21, the High Court granted SGB's ex parte (one side only represented) application for arrest of the vessel.

CCL later brought this application challenging the Irish court's jurisdiction, arguing it was solely for the courts of England or France to assert jurisdiction.

On Friday, Mr Justice McDonald found SGB has a maritime claim which was sufficiently disclosed at the time of the vessel's arrest such as gave SGB a right to arrest it.

The arrest of the vessel to enforce that maritime claim gave the Irish court jurisdiction over the substance of the claim against CCL under Article 7.1 of the 1952 Brussels Convention relating to the Arrest of Seagoing Ships, given force of law here by a 1989 Act, he found.

He also concluded justice requires the case be heard here, for reasons including the vessel remains under arrest and it is in the interests of all parties to have the matter dealt with, he said.

The judge added he will make directions shortly aimed at ensuring a speedy trial.

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