Several miles from the bustling restaurants and nightlife of Baltimore's Inner Harbor lies Anchorage #5. It's a trapezoidal chunk of the Patapsco River, a marine parking lot really, just west of the Key Bridge where ships wait to offload U.S.-bound cargo. For nearly two months, a Maltese-flagged asphalt carrier named the Newlead Granadino and its crew have been stranded at Anchorage #5 in a kind of legal and maritime limbo.
The 368-foot ship and its crew of 14 Filipinos, three Romanians and a Greek cook, have been unable to move since the engine broke down on Sept. 20. The U.S. Coast Guard impounded the ship, saying it was a hazard to navigation. But the owners back in Malta have told the Coast Guard they don't have the $1 million needed to get it seaworthy.
"They can't go anywhere because they have certain repairs they have to do," said Coast Guard Petty Officer Jasmine Mieczala. "They are going to be stuck there until they can make those repairs."
With no money and no way to fix their ship, the crew can't leave. Most of them do not even have U.S. visas that would allow them to go ashore and find a hot meal, hotel or a flight home. Those that can leave, won't, because they would then forfeit their wages for the past few months - wages that they may never get.
For the first several weeks after their stranding, life on the ship became a bit desperate. They were forced to drink water from the ship's air conditioning system and ran short of food.
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In recent days, their life has improved, according to the Rev. Mary Davisson, director of the Baltimore Seafarers Center. She's visited the ship twice at the invitation of the Romanian captain.
"We were delivering some items needed such as basics like toothpaste and shampoo and soap," Davisson said. "We also brought some homemade cookies and Halloween candy."
Davisson said the crew has gotten some pre-paid phone cards and are able to talk with their family members. They also spend a lot of time watching television (with rabbit ears) when they aren't trying to keep the ship running.
"I sat and talked with the crew," Davisson said. "I let them know that a lot of people in Baltimore were thinking of them and praying for them. They said they weren't looking for a handout, they were looking for justice."
Justice may be a long time coming for this crew.
NewLead Holdings, the ship's owners, are based in Greece. Elisa Gerouki, a spokeswoman for NewLead, said the ship's breakdown has left the company facing unexpected costs, but said the firm remains in control of the situation. NewLead says it's working with a French bank that holds a mortgage on the ship to reach a resolution, the Baltimore Sun reported The owners also are facing a lawsuit over another NewLead ship that was seized by maritime authorities in Australia earlier this year for problems that included two vertical cracks in the hull plating and "no functioning safety management system," according to TradeWinds, a shipping industry publication.
Davisson said the crew didn't ask her for money, even though they haven't been paid recently and are supporting families back in the Philippines.
Getting stranded in a foreign port with no way home is an occupational hazard for commercial sailing crews, according to Douglas B. Stevenson, director of the Center for Seafarers' Rights in New York. His group provides legal help to sailors who have been financially stiffed, including several crews from the Hanjin Shipping group.
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The South Korean firm owns 97 container ships but has struggled in recent months and entered bankruptcy in September. That move stranded hundreds of crew members in Los Angeles, Tokyo, Victoria, B.C., Shanghai, Singapore and other ports around the world.
"Because they are in bankruptcy, ports weren't allowing ships to come in and offload cargo," Stevenson said. "They had to be paid up front. When those issues resolved, ships came in and we went to check on the crew."
At least the Hanjin ships were seaworthy. The Newlead Granadino crew is facing an uncertain future. Some Baltimore charities are pitching in to help the stranded sailors, but Davisson says the captain isn't looking to host visitors.
"They are out in the middle of the harbor," Davisson said. "But it's not that everyone should go out there and offer rides ashore. They need time to do their work."
In the meantime, the Seafarer's group has set up a Facebook page to take donations to help the crew.
How long will the ship stay in Baltimore harbor?
"As long as it takes," said the Coast Guard's Mieczala. "I've been told it could take several months to get the parts they need to make the repairs. The owners of the ship seem to be experiencing financial difficulty and that's where some of the issues come from."
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