LOS ANGELES, California — Filipino crew members aboard a 700-foot freighter are asking for “humanitarian parole” from the US Customs and Border Protection after being stuck for over four months on a shop anchored in the Delaware River.
The ship is manned by 17 Filipinos (not 18 as previously reportec), aged 23 to 54, two Ukrainian officials and an Egyptian captain.
Although provided with cell phones, Internet connection, food and water and regular paychecks, the Filipino seamen demanded they be let out of the ship Nikol H.
“They want to get out, so now, Seaman’s Church Institute is helping them to get humanitarian parole that would allow them to go outside the ship,” Philadelphia Filipino community leader Ruth Luyun said.
“If you can imagine,” said the Rev. Peter Stube, Seamen’s Church executive director, “being on a small boat for three or four months without being able to get off, and land within sight. We have made a point of making sure they can stay in touch with the families.”
“Most of them have visas when they arrived, which allowed them off. [T]he visa however is only good for 29 days so once the 29-days limit was up then they were restricted to their ship,” Stube said.
The Greek-owned ship, Nikol H failed to pass a routine maintenance test that caused it to dock at Pier 48 in South Philadelphia for a month. The US Coast Guard detained the freighter, because its owner, Derna Carriers, failed to pay its docking bills amounting to more than $1 million.
“Their morale is still OK, but of course, we really don’t know, maybe they get lonely sometimes because of their families [who are not with them],” Hermie Aczon, another community leader, said.
The Seaman’s Church Institute is continuing to negotiate with US Border authorities to grant the crew members an extension to their visas.
Meanwhile, Consul General Art Romua of the Philippine Consulate in New York confirmed that there is no assurance of when the ship will be able to leave. Derna Carriers claims not to have the money to pay, according to Philadelphia-based maritime lawyer Alfred Kuffler.
Recently, there has been an attempt to sell the ship and pay the vendors, but the negotiation did not push through.
“If no buyer comes soon, once the ship goes to berth for repairs, it likely may be auctioned,” Pastor Bill Rex of the Seamen’s Church Institute said.