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Banana dispute detains freighter in Delaware River

Like a disgruntled shopper, one of the country’s largest food firms is unhappy with a bunch of bananas it acquired in Gloucester City.

But this is a really big bunch of bananas — about 110,000 cartons that allegedly went mushy during a four-day sea voyage from Guatemala to Gloucester.

Del Monte Fresh Produce seeks $1.5 million in a federal lawsuit filed over the bananas, which came up the Delaware River on Monday. The company also has obtained a court order for the “arrest” of a refrigerated freighter, the Green Brazil, that carried the bananas from Central America. That means the ship is barred from leaving the area without a judge’s approval.

The suit, filed Thursday in federal court in Camden, seeks damages from firms based in Norway, Belgium, Poland and the Netherlands Antilles. The companies are described as owners or operators of the Green Brazil.

Representatives of the ship’s owners could not be reached.

According to the lawsuit, 170,000 cartons of bananas and melons were delivered Monday “in good order and condition” to the freighter in the Guatemalan port of Santo Tomas.

The suit contends the Green Brazil was supposed to maintain “a proper temperature and ... controlled atmosphere” for the fruit, but that bananas in two of the ship’s four holds finished the trip “in a distressed state of ripe and turning.”

Del Monte, with U.S. headquarters in Coral Gables, Fla., contends “109,980 cartons of bananas were no longer fit for human consumption and would need to be sold at discount, dumped, donated or otherwise destroyed.”

Del Monte moved quickly to obtain a warrant for the ship’s arrest, said Matthew Wieliczko, a Cherry Hill attorney for the company.

“They (the ship) had potentially scheduled a departure for (Thursday) at 3 p.m.,” he said. “It was a bit of a race against time.”

U.S. Magistrate Ann Marie Donio issued the warrant and on Thursday appointed a temporary custodian for the ship.

Wieliczko said representatives of Del Monte and the ship’s operators were expected to reach an agreement on the value of the disputed produce.

The Green Brazil would likely leave South Jersey — and the lawsuit would continue — once the ship’s owners provide a letter of credit.


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