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Laser 558 - History (9)

Explaining why Laser 558 had closed and the Communicator sailed into port John Catlett, President of MMI in New York and 'Manager' of OMI in London, was quoted in the Ipswich Evening Star on 16th November 1985 as saying: We had a period about ten days ago of some very bad weather, with the bad luck to have one of our major generators actually blow up at the same time as we were low on water and low on fuel, which meant that the ship moved quite easily in a storm. It was dragging anchor and the generator that's used to raise the anchor was inoperative. So the Captain decided, with the agreement of the crew and the disc jockeys on board that for the safety of those people it would be necessary to come into port.

He also claimed to have held talks with a potential new American  backer in an effort to raise the estimated £120,000 needed to free the ship from her detention in the River Stour. These talks were obviously unsuccessful because on 6th December 1985 an advertisement  appeared in Broadcast magazine, placed by Catlett through Overseas Media Inc. in London, offering the MV Communicator for sale or lease for "legal re-launch by new investors."

This attempted sale came all too late because the following week the Admiralty Court in London heard an application from Paul Rusling for the Communicator to be sold in order that he could recover the money owed to him in respect of  goods and services he had  provided while the ship was originally  being fitted out in Florida in 1983.

Counsel for the station's owners, Eurad SA, said the vessel was worth £1million and they did not want a forced sale, but the Admiralty Marshal informed the Court that the 30 year old ship, if sold for scrap, would be worth a tiny fraction of the figure put on it by its owners. The Court found in favour of Paul Rusling and ordered the vessel to be advertised for sale as soon as possible, unless in the meantime the company behind Laser 558 managed to meet the claim.

1986

In accordance with the Court’s instructions the Communicator was advertised for sale on behalf of the Admiralty Marshal in Febryary 1986 and was eventually sold in early April 1986 and, despite rumours that the ship would be purchased by scrap dealers, she was actually bought by a television and radio commercial production company - East Anglian Productions, based in Frinton-on-Sea, Essex, who submitted the highest of 13 tenders. After further refurbishment the Communicator was sold again to a Panamanian registered company and became home to Laser Hot Hits.


POSTSCRIPT

Such was the determination of the British authorities to pursue and prosecute those involved with Laser 558 (and Radio Caroline) that legal cases continued for over four years after the station had closed.

On 4th September 1986 the former Captain of the Communicator appeared before Ipswich Magistrates charged under the Marine etc. Broadcasting (Offences)  Act 1967 with agreeing to carry wireless equipment on the Communicator knowing, or having reasonable cause to believe, that it would be used for broadcasting purposes.

Defence counsel argued that the 1967 Act had  been superseded by European law which prohibited discrimination on the grounds of nationality. In this case, he claimed, "English courts must give precedence and primacy to EEC law where there is a conflict between it and the UK law." However, the magistrates ruled that the EEC law was intended only to prevent member states discriminating against foreigners, not to prevent action being taken against their own nationals.

After this ruling the case continued but no defence evidence was offered on behalf of the ex-captain. His counsel told the Court that he had taken the job because he was unemployed at the time and it was not clear to him that he was operating illegally. The Court found him guilty of the offence and he was fined.

Further prosecutions in connection with Laser 558 took place on 15th May 1987 when eight people appeared before Sittingbourne Magistrates Court charged under the Marine etc. Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967 with a large number of offences relating to the Communicator (and the Radio Caroline ship Ross Revenge). The hearing was adjourned a number of times during the summer of 1987 and eventually seven of the cases were transferred to the Crown Court and set for hearing in November 1988.



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Court notice indicating that the Communicator was to be sold by the Admiralty Marshal

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Notice of sale by the Admiralty Marshal, February 1986

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