Eight crew members have been living aboard the 68-year-old boat since Dec. 18, when it sailed into Halifax to escape a winter gale and Transport Canada inspectors detained it, citing poor living conditions, pollution and concerns over its seaworthiness.
The Mission to Seafarers launched a public appeal for help on the crew's behalf to cover the costs of flying them back to their families in Honduras and El Salvador. The group said it has raised about $7,000 in cash and enough aeroplan points to fly them home, but they are waiting for the points to be transferred to the sailors.
But Gerard Antoine, the president of Vesta Shipping which owns the tugboat, said the crew should stay on board the vessel, repair it and complete a journey to Montreal to pick up another vessel and tow it to Mexico.
"I didn't send them home," he said from his office in New Jersey.
"Unless the person is sick ... you sign something to come to Canada and to go to Mexico. You have a contract."
Antoine said he doesn't think he has any responsibility to help pay for tickets to ensure the crew returns home while the boat is detained.
"Any boat or any ship could be detained for many reasons. What do you do? The crew ... work and clear up the deficiencies."
Antoine also downplayed the problems found on the boat, saying he believes they can be fixed in about two weeks.
"Most deficiencies they have are cosmetic things," he said.
But several of the crew members have said they do not feel safe on the vessel during long voyages in rough seas.
Capt. Milton Tabora said there were problems with the ship's engine and there are holes in the deck that leak water.
Tabora and other crew members say they need to return home to find other work and pay school fees so their children can return to school in February.
Gerard Bradbury, an inspector with the International Transport Workers' Federation, gave the media tours around the tug earlier this week to show them kitchen drawers infested with cockroaches.
He said he has rarely seen such poor living conditions for mariners.
Antoine said it is up to the crew to keep the vessel clean.
"The vessel is very dirty," he said. "Why? Because the crew isn't cleaning up the ship."
He confirmed complaints from the crew that they haven't been paid for their work in December, but said he plans to send their wages.
"I want to clear up the deficiencies and I want to make good on my promises," he said.
Andrew Ashford, who donated enough aeroplan points for flights for two crew members, said he believed the mariners' story.
"I've worked in the Canadian Arctic and I know what it's like to be away from your family, and when I heard this story, it struck me," said Ashford, a paramedic from Stewiacke, N.S.
Ashford said he had built up points from regular flights to Alberta and felt they would be more useful to the crew than for a planned family vacation.
"These men are caught in the crossfire," he said. "They're innocent bystanders. They're trying to provide for their families."Suggest a correction