Stranded Pinoy seamen request for humanitarian parole

By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

Posted at Aug 13 2014 11:50 AM | Updated as of Aug 13 2014 07:50 PM

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania - Seventeen Filipino seamen stuck inside a cargo ship in Philadelphia for four months now are asking the the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) for humanitarian parole to leave the ship for even for a few hours.

Despite being stuck in the middle of the Delaware River, the Filipinos remained in high spirits.

After failing to pass a routine maintenance test, Nikol H, a 700-foot-cargo ship that delivers cocoa beans, has been stranded at Pier 84 in South Philadelphia since early April.

An official crew list obtained by ABS-CBN News confirmed the ship is manned by 17 Filipinos, aged 23 to 54, an Egyptian captain and two Ukranian crew members.

The US Coast Guard seized the cargo ship because its owner, Derma Carriers, allegedly failed to pay its docking bills that has now cost more than a million dollars.

"Most of them have visas when they arrived, which allowed them off, the visa however is only good for 29 days so once the 29 days limit was up then they were restricted to their ship," Seaman's Church Institute executive director Peter Stube said.

Thanks to Reverend Stube, the church group has provided the Filipino crews with a cell phone and internet connection to communicate with their families.

Stube said about half of the number of seafarers who seek help from them are Filipinos.

Consul Art Romua of the Philippine Consulate in New York and Filipino community leaders in Philadelphia who visited the Pinoy crew on Monday say they are well taken care of.

"Ni-request kasi namin na sila'y magsama-sama na makita namin isa-isa... Masaya-masaya, ang morale nila ay OK pa rin, como siyempre hindi natin alam talaga, siyempre nalulungkot din sila sa pamilya nila," Hermie Aczon said.

Community leader Ruth Luyun said while the Filipino crew members continue to receive their paychecks and basic necessities such as food and drinks – they may be stranded on Delaware river longer than expected.

The Seaman's Church Institute has requested the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to grant them a humanitarian extension of their visas.

"Gusto rin nila makalabas, kaya ngayon ay tinutulungan sila ng Seaman's Church Institute para mabigyan sila ng humanitarian parole para sila's makalabas sa barko,” Luyun said.

Consul Romua said the next step is that the mortgage company will seize the ship, place it for auction and then have it repaired. Once that is done then the US Coastguard will finally release the ship.

When that will happen is still not clear. Romua said it may take weeks or even months to do so.

"They're happy in the sense na, umaandar yung sahod nila, andun lang sila sa barko,” Romua said, “Of course hindi sila makalabas pero on time yung sahod nila. Sumasahod pa rin sila."

Romua said one of the crew members even told him: "Ok lang kami rito kahit walang trabaho, may sahod naman kami."

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