North American Sugar Industries has accused DSV and BBC Chartering of violating the Helms-Burton Act for their roles in the construction of a wind farm in Cuba. Title III of the contentious act had laid dormant since its inception in 1996, until last year.
According to the lawsuit filed at the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Goldwind Sciences and Goldwind International hired DSV and BBC Chartering for the delivery of wind turbine components to Puerto Carupano, Cuba. USA-based North American Sugar Industries, which used to own the Cuban port, has filed for damages. The port was nationalised by the Cuban government in the 1960s; the claimant said no compensation was paid during the process.
The Helms-Burton Act was brought into force in 1996 to put pressure on the Cuban regime. Title III of the act enables US nationals and companies to sue organisations that profits from their former property.
Every past US president has used his statutory authority to suspend Title III’s operation. Current President Donald Trump, however, allowed the provision to go into effect for the first time during May 2019.
According to the North American Sugar Industries lawsuit, the work was carried out in 2018 and 2019. The plaintiff said that the defendants used or benefitted from the use of Puerto Carupano to deliver equipment for use in the Herradura wind farm project, the largest wind power project in Cuba being developed by Energoimport, located 15 miles (24.1 km) away.
The plaintiff added that the defendants knew that they could be required to compensate North American Sugar Industries for transporting goods to the Cuban government through Puerto Carupano, and steps were taken to conceal that activity.
The plaintiff suggests that the bills of lading falsely represented that the final destination of the cargoes, which were transported by BBC Jade and BBC Moonstone, was Miami. The plaintiff claims that Miami was a refuelling stop and the cargoes were then shipped to Cuba.
The sued companies include DSV’s US subsidiary DSV Air & Sea, BBC Chartering USA and BBC Chartering Singapore, as well as the two Goldwind subsidiaries. The claim is approximately USD97 million, plus treble damages, interest and reasonable case fees.
DSV said in a statement: “Together with our customer we have made great efforts to ensure compliance with US regulations, and we strongly refute the claim that DSV has attempted to circumvent the law when planning and carrying out the project. The transport documents have been prepared in accordance with applicable rules, and information about the final destination – Puerto Carupanu, Cuba – is clearly stated in the documents. DSV is aware of the existing sanctions against Cuba, and we operate a strict compliance policy to ensure legal compliance.”
A statement from BBC Chartering read: “On the advice of outside counsel, we cannot comment on pending litigation.”
Law firm Arnold & Porter highlighted that experts thought the Trump administration’s decision to activate Title III would lead to a rush of lawsuits. This was not the case and by May 2020, just 25 suits had been filed.
The filed suits have not been what the administration or Congress anticipated, added the law firm. “Many Title III lawsuits so far have targeted American companies—not Cuban or other foreign companies—and the plaintiffs’ allegations of trafficking have been very contrived.”
Two weeks ago, a Miami court dismissed one of the first lawsuits filed – a Florida doctor claimed that cruise operator Carnival Corporation benefited from the use of his seized property.