Truth in tankage at issue in lawsuit

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A California attorney claims that the builder of Selene trawlers and its “major agent and broker” on the West Coast engaged in fraud when they sold him a Selene 43 with significantly less fuel and water capacity than advertised.

Atty. Jay Robinson, of Toluca Lake, Calif., filed a lawsuit in January against Jet Tern Marine — the Taiwan manufacturer of the Selene line — Jet Tern CEO Howard Chen and several individuals associated with Selene’s West Coast dealerships, including Friday Harbor Yacht Sales of Friday Harbor, Wash. Robinson is asking a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to award him $200,000 to retrofit JaDeDa with new fuel and water tanks and to compensate him for loss of use during the retrofit.

Robinson also is seeking unspecified punitive damages, contending the sales tactics constituted “fraud and deceit.” Reached by telephone, Robinson declined to comment.

The Selene defendants are represented by Alan Nakazawa of the firm Cogswell, Nakazawa & Chang, of Long Beach, Calif. — specialists in maritime and contract law. Nakazawa says his clients had no comment.

A magistrate March 18 allowed the defendants to delay answering the allegations while the parties try to negotiate a settlement. If those talks fail, the case likely will be heard in U.S. District Court for Central California. The defendants have exercised their right to have the case moved to federal court on grounds of “diversity of jurisdiction” — the fact that parties live in diverse places such as Washington and Taiwan, as well as California.

At the heart of Robinson’s case is his contention that the defendants communicated to him, both in conversation and in writing, that the Selene 43’s two fuel tanks would hold 1,050 gallons of diesel and that the water tank would have a capacity of 300 gallons. Selene’s tankage numbers were cited in boat show flyers, specification sheets and schematic drawings.

According to the lawsuit, Robinson owned the boat for 15 months before determining in September 2007 that the true tank capacities were 800 gallons of fuel and 250 gallons of water.

“The total fuel capacity of trawlers is critical, particularly on those boats represented to be ‘ocean voyagers’ or ‘long-distance trawlers,’ and substantially impacts their resale value,” Robinson wrote in his Jan. 15 complaint.

The Selene defendants, according to Robinson, engaged in a “scheme” to convince potential trawler purchasers to choose a Selene rather than Nordhavn, another popular trawler brand. “This scheme involved misrepresenting to potential purchasers … that the Selene 43s had a fuel capacity of 1,100 gallons, very close to that of the Nordhavn 43,” Robinson wrote in the lawsuit.

He also claims he was told a Selene 43 could be delivered within a year after signing a construction contract. Instead, Robinson says, his boat was delivered 17 months after the contract signing.

According to the lawsuit, Robinson later learned that the Selene defendants had received complaints from previous owners about similar discrepancies, had settled some of those prior claims, and then went on to conceal these claims and settlements from other customers. The suit describes the alleged misrepresentations as a conspiracy that was “despicable and constitutes actual fraud and deceit.”

Robinson says he tried to convince the Selene defendants to pay for retrofitting new tanks, but they balked at what they anticipated would be a high cost. He also claims he was told he “would have to live with” the tanks he had.

Selene’s Web site now lists the tank capacities of the 43 as 800 gallons fuel and 200 gallons water.

Although Robinson declined to say whether JaDeDa is for sale, the boat in late April was listed on yacht   council.com, a brokerage Web site, for $574,500. Tankage is listed at 800 gallons fuel and 250 gallons water. The vessel is described as “absolutely, positively the newest, nicest, cleanest Selene 43 anywhere.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2009 issue.