Good Samaritans in Halifax raise funds to send stranded Central American sailors home
Published Thursday, January 17, 2013 8:31AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 17, 2013 11:36AM EST
A group of Central American sailors stranded in Halifax since December will fly home Monday after local Good Samaritans joined forces to lend a hand.
The eight sailors, seven from Honduras and one from El Salvador, have been detained in Halifax since they arrived on Dec. 18 on the Bolivian-flagged tugboat the Craig-Trans.
Officials from Transport Canada cited poor living conditions and concerns about the ship's seaworthiness, and barred the vessel and crew from leaving.
Volunteers from the Halifax Mission to Sailors have been providing the men with food and shelter during their ordeal, and announced Thursday they were helping send the men home.
"We are pleased to report that the seven stranded Hondurans and one Salvadorian will be leaving Halifax on Monday morning to return to their home countries. Thanks go to all who have helped to make this happen through Aeroplan points and monetary donations. We are very pleased and most grateful," said Helen Glenn, manager of the mission, in a news release.
Earlier Thursday, the leader of the group of sailors said he and his crew "won the lottery" when they limped into port to escape a storm, with little food or water on a badly-damaged tugboat.
The crew had been en route to Montreal to pick up another vessel, which was to then be towed to Mexico.
Pedro Andrade, chief officer on the detained boat, said the crew was in dire straits until members of the Mission to Seafarers arrived dockside with food, water and warm clothes for the men.
They had run out of food before they arrived in Halifax. What little water they had was contaminated, and the tug was infested with cockroaches, he claimed.
"All the crew and myself are very, very thankful and that's why I've been saying God pretty much led us to the dock. We made the right decision to come to Halifax and we met great people and the right people with a big heart," Andrade told CTV's Canada AM.
Maggie Whittingham-Lamont, co-ordinator for the Mission to Seafarers, said she and other volunteers sprang into action when they first heard about the crew members' plight.
"I received a call from Transport Canada to say a tugboat had arrived in port, that it was in deplorable condition, that the gentlemen had not eaten in several days, they didn't have potable water, they didn't have warm clothing, and they asked if we could act on that," Whittingham-Lamont said.
"The next morning we arrived with breakfast and coffee, then we sourced warm winter clothing and went on to get food donations from the community to continue to feed these guys every day."
Since then, the men have been spending their days at the mission, where they are fed three meals a day and are able to communicate with their families via phone and Internet. They spend their nights on the tugboat.
The volunteers said early Thursday they had also raised roughly $7,000 and collected airline points donations to help the men not only fly home, but also to help cover costs for their families back home.
"I think when we came to Halifax we won the lottery because everyone was so nice to us, they even worried about our problems back home. We don't have the words to tell them thank you, thank you, thank you," Andrade said.
However, not everyone is happy with the crew's plan to head home. Gerard Antoine, president of New Jersey-based Vesta Shipping which owns the 68-year-old tug, has said the crew should repair the boat and continue their journey to Montreal.
Antoine has said in media reports the vessel's problems have been overblown and he had no responsibility to fly the men home before they have completed their work.
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