POLITICS

Ship crew stranded in Newfoundland is running low on water, food: union leader

11/14/2014 11:38 EST | Updated 01/14/2015 05:59 EST
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Eleven men stranded on a cargo ship at the port of Argentia in Newfoundland are low on food and water and are among increasing numbers of abandoned crews, say union leaders.

"My concern right now is these guys do not have a penny in their pocket," Gerard Bradbury, an inspector with the International Transport Workers Federation, told a news conference Friday. "They have no winter clothing whatsoever."

Bradbury is appealing for donations to help the eight Ukrainian and three Russian crew members stranded at the port in southeastern Newfoundland since Aug. 4. The crew aboard the 131-metre MV Jana arrived in Argentia from Poland after delivering its cargo of steel rails in Halifax, Bradbury said.

The 12-year-old vessel is in relatively good shape but needs significant repairs to its main engine shaft, he added.

Bradbury said the crew has not been paid since June and is now owed about US$160,000. The vessel was last owned by a German company that claims the ship was seized when it filed for bankruptcy, he said.

Gregor Reiter, a legal adviser for the company's insolvency administrator, confirmed Friday that the ship is now tied up in court proceedings in Germany that could take several more weeks.

He said in an emailed statement that the vessel is still owned by the MS "Hanna" Schiffahrtsgesellschaft mbH & Co. Reederei KG, a private limited partnership.

Reiter said the insolvency administrator, Andreas Sontopski, wired Friday about 15,000 Euro (around C$21,000) "to address the bare necessities of the crew."

"We know that this is a mere drop in the ocean, but we hope that at least the minimum requirements can be met."

Reiter said the insolvency administrator has been working to secure funds to repair the ship or tow it to a more accessible port.

"Having talked to (Gerard Bradbury) today, we will put pressure on the secured creditors to secure funding and to make a decision on how to proceed by next week," he said.

Transport Canada issued a statement confirming the vessel has mechanical problems, but spokesman Ben Stanford said in an email the ship would be allowed to leave once repairs were made.

John Boland, a union representative with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers, said such strandings are becoming alarmingly frequent.

"You know, once every 10 years we would have something like this in Newfoundland," he told the news conference. "It's just getting more and more all the time."

Boland blames international free trade deals that he says erode the rights of already low-paid crews.

"I think it's a race to the bottom," he said. "Everybody is having to do more and more for less and less money. The end result is what you see."

Capt. Sergey Alipichev said there's heat on the ship and enough fuel to last another 20 days. But he said tensions are escalating as the men live on chicken and rice with little fresh fruit or vegetables. A lack of cigarettes hasn't helped boost morale for the heavy smokers on board, he added.

"It's very difficult now."

Able-bodied seaman Sergey Orel of Odessa, Ukraine, said he keeps in touch with family through text messages on his five-year-old cellphone. It's the only means of communication for the crew right now, he said.

"Of course, they're waiting," Orel said of loved ones who rely on cash sent home by the men.

He said the crew spends long days maintaining the ship, fighting boredom and hoping to get back to sea.

"This is our job. We're sailors."

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