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A federal jury has rejected a $1.3 million maritime claim brought by a Greek cruise ship owner that accused a Delaware County vacation company of reneging on a contract to charter its cruise ship for the 1998-99 winter season. The verdict, reached last week in Chios Breeze Marine Co. v. Atkinson & Mullen Travel Inc., was a victory for attorneys Philip G. Kircher and Aaron Krauss of Cozen O’Connor, who represented Atkinson & Mullen Travel. Kircher said the case was legally significant because it was the first in which a judge had applied the maritime principle of “fixture” in a case involving a passenger ship as opposed to a cargo ship. In maritime law, the term “fixture” refers to a “meeting of the minds” on an agreement to charter a ship and is an enforceable contract. Prior to trial, Kircher said, U.S. District Judge Timothy Savage asked the lawyers whether there was any case law applying fixture in a case of a passenger ship. They said they had found none. Over Kircher’s objection, Savage allowed the plaintiff to proceed on a fixture theory, arguing that letters exchanged between the two companies amounted to a meeting of the minds on an agreement to charter Chios Breeze’s ship, the Ocean Majesty. According to court papers, Newtown Square-based Atkinson & Mullen Travel, which does business as Apple Vacations, had chartered the Ocean Majesty for one winter season to operate cruise vacations along the coast of Mexico. But Apple Vacations said it lost money in that venture because it had entered the market too late and was unable to fill the ship. The lawsuit, however, focused on negotiations to charter the ship for a second year. Chios Breeze’s lawyers — Kevin J. Thornton and A. Robert Degen of Fox Rothschild — argued that fixture of the charter for the second year was confirmed in a May 1998 letter written by John Mullen, Apple Vacations’ president and chief executive officer. In the letter, Mullen appeared to invoke the language of fixture, writing: “I believe this is our understanding. We’re moving forward to selling the ship. Let’s have a good, successful season for both companies. I’m looking forward to working with you again.” But Mullen testified at trial that he was completely unaware of the maritime principle of fixture and that he believed the two companies were still involved in negotiations that were not yet finalized. Significant terms of the agreement had not been worked out, Mullen said, including how the two companies would share expenses and how the ship would be staffed. As a result, Mullen testified, he misunderstood a fax sent by Chios Breeze to Apple Vacations that said “the vessel is now fully fixed.” Mullen testified that he thought the phrase meant only that all necessary repairs had been made to the ship and that it was ready to sail. Apple Vacations decided to abandon the negotiations, Mullen said, because it was getting too late in the season to begin marketing the cruises and it did not want to repeat its mistake from the first season. But witnesses for Chios Breeze testified that the company lost significant revenue when Apple Vacations canceled the deal since it was also too late to find another company interested in chartering the Ocean Majesty. Plaintiffs’ lawyers said Chios Breeze also incurred significant expenses in having the ship laid up in the Port of Piraeus, Greece. After a five-day trial, the jury of five men and three women deliberated for about three hours before returning a verdict that cleared Apple Vacations of any liability. Although the jury verdict form posed four questions, the jury answered just one — finding that there never was a contract to charter the ship.

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