The crew members of a Bolivian-flagged tugboat, the Craig Trans, said they were on their way to Montreal when a winter storm forced them to find shelter in Halifax last month.
A routine check by Transport Canada found a list of safety violations, including issues with navigation equipment and faulty escape hatches.
According to the crew the owner has neither done the repairs to release the ship nor paid them.
The men from Honduras and El Salvador told CBC News they have been living in squalor on the boat since.
They said there are dead cockroaches on the floor, in the drawers and in the cooking area, and live cockroaches can be seen darting around the ship.
"The tug is deplorable. The powers that be have all clearly indicated it's the worst they have seen in over 40 years in the marine industry," said Helen Glenn with the Mission to Seafarers, an Anglican not-for-profit group.
Now the charity is trying to raise between $12,000 and $15,000 to help the men return to their anxious families back home in Central America.
After hearing the sailors' story, people in Nova Scotia and across the country are helping out.
So far the group has raised between $4,000 and $5,000. One man and his wife chipped in almost 90,000 Aeroplan miles to help get the crew home.
According to the Aeroplan website, that's enough to cover three, one-way, economy-class tickets to Central America.
"It caught me in a charitable morning I guess. I felt for them, they all have families, they are all probably dying to get back to their kids. We have an eight month old now I can relate a little more what it feels like," said Guy Germain.
Until enough money is raised the crew is spending most of their days at the mission watching television and playing pool.
"Me and the crew, we have our families and we are very worried as each month [passes.] We have to pay bills," said Capt. Milton Tavora.
He told CBC News the crew hasn't heard from the owner in nearly a month. The owner did not return calls from CBC News.
First mate Pedro Andrade said the crew is touched by the charity of strangers.
"I think the decision we made to come to Halifax — maybe it was God because we came to the right port. We met really great people here with big hearts," he said.
While the charity has made progress, Glenn said they still need to raise more money to reunite the men with their families.