Posted on October 10, 2019 by Ilias Kiritsis
The High Court in London has ruled that the Liberia-flagged Crude Oil Tanker, BRILLANTE VIRTUOSO was not, in fact, the victim of a pirate attack, but was intentionally damaged by the ship’s Greek owner, Marios Iliopoulos.
Back in July 2011, Mr Iliopoulos, alongside his creditor, Piraeus Bank claimed that the tanker had been hit by Somali pirates off the Gulf of Aden.
Initial reports suggested that the vessel had been hit by an RPG. The extent of the fire and damage on the vessel made it so that the ship was considered a total loss.
However, the insurance providers disputed the official record of events.
What followed was a lengthy court battle lasting more than four years; Mr. Iliopoulos was charged with fraud in 2016 but Piraeus Bank would not back down on claims of piracy.
Now in 2019, the English High Court issued a ruling, suggesting that the shipowner had been the “instigator of the conspiracy” that would see the vessel destroyed in order to claim money back from the insurers.
“I do not consider that there is a plausible explanation of the events which befell Brillante Virtuoso which is consistent with an innocent explanation. I have found that in the present case a group of armed men, on the instructions of the Owner, were permitted to board the vessel and set fire to it, as part of an attempt by the Owner to defraud the Underwriters.”
“Iliopoulos had a motive to want the vessel to be damaged by fire, namely, the making of a fraudulent claim for the total loss of the vessel in the sum of some $77 million which, if successful, would solve the serious financial difficulties in which he and his companies were at the time,” reads the statement by John Martin Teare, the Justice presiding the case.
The “conspiracy” involves Mr Iliopoulos, the Ship Master & Chief Engineer, as well as seven Yemeni coast guards.
Back on June 5th, 2011, the Virtuoso was drifting off Yemen waiting for a team of security contractors to board the vessel so as to transit the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.
A small boat approached, carrying seven men, who then informed the crew that they were “security”. They proceeded to board the vessel with the Master’s permission.
They ordered the Master to sail for Somalia, calling for a change of course due east-southeast, but the Master proceeded to steer southwest towards Djibouti.
Some hours later, for unknown reasons the engine came to a stop, and the attacks detonated an IED in the engine room, starting a fire which rapidly spread throughout the ship.
Due to the extent of the fire, the ship was declared a total loss.
Justice Teare made mention of a number of inconsistencies with the official story, such as the attack occurring in Yemen waters off Aden; a region in which Somali pirates never operated.
“The constructive total loss of Brillante Virtuoso was caused by the wilful misconduct of the owner, Mr Iliopoulos. In those circumstances, the bank is unable to establish that the loss was caused by an insured peril. The bank’s claim must, therefore, be dismissed,” reads the statement by Justice Teare.