Solomon Lew sued over US luxury yacht bump

RETAIL magnate Solomon Lew has become embroiled in a legal stoush with a fellow billionaire after their luxury super yachts collided in a Florida shipyard, causing damage estimated at $US500,000.

The resulting US court case against Mr Lew and his 177-foot (54-metre) yacht Maridome is the latest legal battle involving the billionaire, who in recent months has warred with the former spouses of his children over control of tens of millions of dollars held in a family trust and clashed with Mount Eliza locals over a pool built on Crown land without a permit.

Wendy McCaw, who made her fortune in mobile phones and now owns Californian newspaper the Santa Barbara News-Press, alleges that in mid-February Maridome rammed her 188-foot motor yacht Calixe as it lay in its berth at the BAE Systems shipyard in Jacksonville.

Maridome was seized by authorities after Mrs McCaw complained to the Florida Middle District Court that attempts to strike an amicable settlement had failed.

The yacht was released on April 27 after Maridome's insurer lodged a bond of $US620,000 with the court.

While US court records show the case is still pending, a source close to Mr Lew told The Age it had been settled by Maridome's insurer, which ran the case without input from Mr Lew.

The two yachts at the centre of the quarrel are little short of floating worlds. The Dutch-built Calixe carries a helicopter and can sleep 10 guests while Mr Lew's Maridome, which is not to be confused with his other yacht, Texas, also sleeps 10 and reportedly has a disco on board. It lacks a helipad, but it at one time reportedly hosted a mini-submarine.

In a complaint filed with the court last month, lawyers for Mrs McCaw said Calixe had just completed a major service and was ''in excellent condition'' until it was hit by Maridome.

Mrs McCaw alleges that at about 4.15pm on February 19 the Maridome struck a steel mooring float ''instead of safely securing itself to it''.

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''Maridome tore the mooring float from the seawall and carried it to Calixe,'' she alleges in the complaint.

''The Maridome violently rammed Calixe's bow area and released the steel float to strike and scrape the entire length of Calixe's starboard side.

''The Maridome remained pinned to Calixe until it was separated by a tug hours later.

''The incident resulted in Maridome's captain being cited for careless operation and failing to maintain safe speed in violation of navigation rules.''

Lawyers for Mr Lew blamed the clash on the failure of a secondary set of controls on the side of the vessel, used to manoeuvre while close to port.

Mrs McCaw said Maridome's owners and operators, including Mr Lew, failed to operate the yacht safely and asked the court to arrest and sell it.

Maridome's insurer estimated it would cost between $US382,000 and $468,000 to fix the damage, but the Calixe's captain told the court total costs were expected to be almost $500,000.

Magistrate Judge James Klindt issued a warrant ordering US marshals to seize - or arrest, in the legal language used by admiralty courts - Maridome on April 13.

The yacht was released on April 27 following payment of the bond.

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