Stranded crewmembers of Russian ship hope to go home soon

Tara Bradbury
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Gerard Bradbury of the International Transport Workers Federation speaks with reporters Friday on the dock in St. John’s next to the stranded Russian cruise ship Lyubov Orlova. The ship and its crew remain in the capital city while the fate of the vessel is decided by its owners.

Crewmembers of a Russian cruise ship that’s been stranded in St. John’s harbour for more than a month may finally be going home.

Fifty-one workers were left in St. John’s after the ship, owned by Russian-based Locso Shipping and chartered by Cruise North Expeditions Inc. for adventure tourism trips to the Canadian Arctic, was arrested upon arriving in St. John’s. Canadian officials placed the ship under arrest because the owner owes Cruise North about $250,000. No passengers were onboard at the time.

The crewmembers, who range in age from 19 to mid-60s, make an average of $1,000 a month and say they haven’t been paid in months.

Friday afternoon, a deal for the sale of the cruise ship went through, and the crew’s requirements in terms of wages and flights home are being negotiated.

Earlier in the day, International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) inspector Gerard Bradbury said the situation on board the MV Lyubov Orlova was getting more bleak by the day. The crewmembers called the ITF for help when they arrived.

“They have maybe nine or ten days’ supply of fuel, but only two days’ supply of food,” Bradbury said. “The captain received some money and was able to give everyone $20 each, and that’s the only money they’ve had in months.”

The local Salvation Army has been giving the crew donations, and the Canadian Autoworkers Union dropped off a dozen pizzas at lunchtime Thursday, Bradbury said. St. John’s residents have also been stopping by the ship, offering cigarettes and other small items.

“You’ll often see five of them sharing the same cigarette,” Bradbury said.

Six of the workers have already returned home, after family members bought their plane tickets. One of those workers was a pregnant woman who flew home Thursday. There’s at least one other person aboard needing medical attention, Bradbury said.

“One of the men has seriously high blood pressure. They need to get home as soon as possible, so none of them ends up having to be brought home in a box.”

Morale among the crewmembers has its ups and downs, Bradbury said. Many of them are disheartened by false Russian media reports that say they’re well-equipped and fine.

“It’s all to try and discourage any spending of (the government’s) own money to send them home,” he said.

A news bulletin posted on their government’s website Thursday indicated Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s office was looking into the situation.

The crewmembers signed their power of attorney over to the ITF, which has been trying to recoup their wages for them. The workers are owed a total of more than $321,000, Bradbury said.

He said the ITF asked Cruise North to include that amount in its claim against the ship owner, but the company refused. A company spokesman told The Telegram the ITF could make its own claim on behalf of the crewmembers and put a lien on the ship.

While negotiations are ongoing, Bradbury is hoping members of the public might help the workers out with donations of food or toiletry items.

“I know, though, that it’s eventually going to be a drain on the community, as well,” he said. “It’s 44 more mouths to feed. We just want the situation settled as soon as possible.”

Organizations: ITF, Cruise North Expeditions, Canadian Arctic International Transport Workers Federation Salvation Army Canadian Autoworkers Union The Telegram

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