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Majestic Blue Fisheries liable in death of captain

The federal court in Guam has handed down a judgement of more than $3 million against Majestic Blue Fisheries LLC., a U.S. based company which has been claimed in court documents as a subsidiary of South Korean based Dongwon Industries — which is the owner of StarKist Co., and StarKist Samoa cannery.


The decision on Monday followed a five-day jury trial, presided over by U.S. Magistrate Judge Joaquin V.E. Manibusan, who certified the jury’s verdict of a total judgement of just over $3.2 million.


The lawsuit was filed in 2012 by Amy Hill, the widow of David Hill, who died while working as master of the Majestic Blue fishing vessel, which sank off the coast of Guam earlier that year. David Hill, who was also the captain of the vessel, was the only person who died, while the rest of the crew of 22 were rescued at sea.


Based on court documents, the Guam-based Pacific Daily News publication reports that Majestic Blue Fisheries "is owned or de-facto owned and completely controlled and dominated by Dongwon.” The jury found the defendant was liable for Hill’s death.


The judgement, released Monday by the federal court in Guam, states that $1.67 million is awarded to the plaintiff for reasonable value of the financial support that Captain Hill would have provided to his family had he lived; $1.43 million in consideration for income taxes that would have ordinarily been paid had Captain Hill lived; and $96,000 for mental, physical, and/or emotional pain and suffering experienced by Captain Hill as conscious pre-death pain and suffering.


The court further awarded prejudgment interest on the $96,000 awarded as conscious pre-death pain and suffering, commencing on June 14, 2010, through the date of judgment.


The plaintiff was represented in the Guam case by Florida-based law firm Moore & Company, the same firm who filed in November 2012 a civil suit at the federal court in Wilmington, Delaware against Dongwon, Majestic Blue Fisheries LLC, Pacific Breeze Fisheries LLC, Jayne Songmi Kim and her sister Joyce Jungmi Kim, along with their father Jaewoong Kim.


The two sisters listed as owning the two fisheries companies, i.e. fishing vessels, are the nieces of the Chairman of Dongwon Industries, Jae-Chul Kim, and Jaewoong Kim is his brother. Court documents note that Jaewoong Kim used to be an executive of the South Korean based Dongwon Industries.


As previously reported by Samoa News, the lawsuit accused the defendants of using  “U.S. citizen straw-people” to fraudulently obtain U.S. fishing vessel documentation and tuna fishing licenses to fish in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Pacific Island Nations for two vessels — Majestic Blue and Pacific Breeze— that are actually Korean owned.


Defendants sought dismissal of the suit arguing lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure.


The defendants asserted the lawsuit does not even profess to have any firsthand, inside information of fraud, but instead filed the suit based upon publicly available information and allegations and therefore the complaint should be dismissed under the False Claims Act’s public disclosure bar.


U.S. District Court Judge Susan Robinson agreed with the defense, on a number of issues including that Moore & Company was “not an original source” of information under the FCA.


A footnote in the decision, says the court is “more than a little alarmed” if the conduct of the defendants, as alleged by Moore & Company “goes uncorrected by the government agencies responsible for oversight of the fishing industry.”


The lawsuit was dismissed last October and the federal government declined to intervene in the case.