By Becky W. Evans The Standard-Times October 21, 2004

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June 27, 2005

FAIRHAVEN – Fishermen gathered around the rusty-sided Georgie J yesterday at the Fairhaven Shipyard & Marina to cast bids during an auction for the 38-year-old scalloping boat.

Bidding, which began at $1 million, escalated quickly as four men fought for ownership of the 80-foot, steel-hulled vessel.

“I have $1.7 million,” said the U.S. marshal, who doubled as auctioneer. “Do I hear more?”

Carlos Rafael, who placed the $1.7 million bid, leaned casually against a dock piling and puffed on a cigarette.

“Going once.”

The other stone-faced bidders stared straight ahead.

“Going twice.”

The crowd of fishermen leaned into the wind listening for another bid.

“Third and final call.”

Silence.

“Sold,” the auctioneer said as Mr. Rafael stepped forward to hand him a $100,000 deposit check, already written to the United States Marshals Service.

Mr. Rafael, who owns four scallopers and 11 draggers, said he had hoped to pay only $1.5 million for the boat.

“But it’s good,” he said. “It sets the stage for the other scallopers in the fleet.”

Staring at the rusty dredges on the Georgie J, Mr. Rafael said the vessel’s fishing permits were more valuable than the boat itself.

The scalloper, which was seized by the U.S. Marshals Service on May 5, has an estimated 30 days-at-sea fishing permits to catch scallops before the season ends in March.

The boat was seized from former owner George Jones after a fishing accident paralyzed 30-year-old crewman Victor Capaldi last November.

The Georgie J was hauling back its dredges when a 30-pound steel block fell 20 feet from the rigging and hit Mr. Capaldi in the head, according to his attorney, Carolyn M. Latti.

“It scalped him and rendered him a quadriplegic,” said Ms. Latti of the Boston-based Latti & Anderson LLP.

The insurance policy, which valued the Georgie J at approximately $1 million, was too little to cover Mr. Capaldi’s future medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering, which total “millions of dollars,” Ms. Latti said.

Following maritime law, Ms. Latti placed a lien on the boat and filed a motion with the court to seize the Georgie J.

In September, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro ordered the sale of the Georgie J by auction, Ms. Latti said.

Proceeds of the sale will be held by the court until a non-jury trial is held this spring, she said.

If Ms. Latti can prove that the Georgie J was not seaworthy at the time of the accident, Mr. Capaldi will receive the $1.7 million raised during yesterday’s auction, she said.

“We’re thrilled with the price,” Ms. Latti said after the auction.

“It’s great. It provides proceeds that will help Victor Capaldi survive and pay for medical care.”

After spending three months at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, Mr. Capaldi now lives with his mother in Rochester, where he receives around-the-clock care, Ms. Latti said.

“His life has been turned upside down,” Ms. Capadli said. “The money is not going to bring his (ability to move) back, but it will help him survive.”

Mr. Rafael referred to the accident as “very sad,” but blamed the owner for not buying a big enough insurance policy for the boat.

“I always have a big policy. From three to five million,” he said. “I like to sleep nights.”

On Nov. 15, Mr. Rafael will attend a confirmation hearing at the U.S. District Court in Boston. During the hearing, the title and permits for the Georgie J will be transferred to his name.

Mr. Rafael plans to repaint the royal blue boat and christen it with a new name.

But he said he won’t know until new scallop regulations are announced later this month whether he made a good purchase.

“It’s a game of Russian roulette,” he said. “The boat is in good shape. But the industry could be in bad shape.”