NEWS

Stranded Central American tug crew heading home

01/16/2013 05:01 EST | Updated 03/18/2013 05:12 EDT
A group of eight sailors who are stranded in Halifax could be reunited with their families in Central America as early as Friday.

"Things are going fantastic. I have been on the phone nonstop," said Helen Glenn manager of the Mission to Seafarers, an Anglican not-for-profit group.

Her charity stepped in and began accepting donations to send the men from Honduras and El Salvador home after a winter storm forced their Bolivian-flagged tugboat, the Craig Trans, 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. The vessel was impounded.

According to the crew, the owner has neither done the repairs to release the ship nor paid them.

The men told CBC News they had been living in squalor on the boat — complete with cockroaches.

Donations pour in

After hearing the sailors' story, people from across the country opened up their wallets and donated thousands of Aeroplan miles.

Aeroplan headquarters fast tracked a donation site for the sailors, anchoring a series of charitable moves.

A professor from Montreal donated several thousand dollars. A man from Alberta gave up his own vacation and gave his Aeroplan points to the crew. A barber shop is offering free haircuts and a restaurant on the Halifax waterfront has invited the sailors to lunch this week.

Then there is the 95-year-old woman from Ingonish, N.S., who doesn't want anyone to know her name.

"She actually just gave us a call and said, 'I'm not going anywhere any place soon would you like to have my Aeroplan miles?'" said Glenn.

People at the mission said they are relieved to know the crew has found a way home.

"The whole case has just haunted me since day one. I have woken up several times a night thinking of these guys, wondering what we can do for them, wondering how we're going to resolve it. But last night I was a little more hopeful," said mission co-ordinator Maggie Wittingman-Lamont.

Owner talks

Still, underneath the celebratory cheer, some people involved in the marine industry say the men have been ignored by authorities.

"The people of Halifax and the workers at the mission — fantastic job. But again they are doing the work of the governments that are involved," said Gerard Bradbury, an inspector with the International Transport Workers Federation.

The CBC Radio One show As it Happens was able to get in touch with the owner of the Craig Trans tugboat.

Gerard Antoine of Vesta Shipping Lines said he will not pay for the crew to fly home.

He wants them to clean and fix the vessel that has been impounded by Transport Canada.

Antoine is promising to pay them for the month of December, but he won't say when.

He also downplayed the problems found on the boat.

"Someone has to come and clean it for you?" he asked.

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