Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Adrift in Jacksonville Legal Disputes Strand Sailors Far from Home

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Adrift in Jacksonville Legal Disputes Strand Sailors Far from Home

Article excerpt

Neither Valerij Bashinskij nor his 21-member crew can leave their ship, which is anchored on a deserted pier at the old Jacksonville Shipyard.

The Nord Lady's crew is not under arrest, but their 500-foot refrigerator vessel is, seized by U.S. marshals over a commercial dispute involving a $1.7 million cargo of frozen chicken.

For the last month, the Border Patrol has barred the Lithuanian sailors from coming ashore, leaving the crew stranded without pay and in legal limbo aboard their own ship.

The sailors are not alone in their confinement.

Across the world, many crews are finding themselves in similar straits, caught up in legal disputes not of their own making, aliens in strange lands without the resources to return home, victims of economic distress in the world shipping industry.

Ship seizures and stranded crews are on the rise, said Douglas Stevenson, director of the Center for Seafarers' Rights in New York City.

"With the downturn in the world economy . . . freight rates are down and a lot of the marginal operators don't have the resources to tide them over," he said.

Russian and Romanian operators, laden with big debts, have been particularly hard hit, he said.

None of the attorneys involved with the Nord Lady's case put any blame on the stranded crew.

"If I had some fault in this case, I could understand," said Bashinskij, speaking slowly in broken English. "But the crew members had nothing, not even 0.01 percent fault."

The sailors on the Nord Lady at least have company nearby.

Crew members can wave across their decks to the 10-person crew of the Andreea and find some solace. The six Romanians and four Cubans aboard that vessel have been stuck in similar circumstances since late September.

In August 1998, a different crew of the Nord Lady picked up a shipment of frozen chicken in Jacksonville and transported it to St. Petersburg, Russia, said Rod Sullivan, a Jacksonville attorney who represents the current crew.

There, the cargo was unloaded in circumstances that are now in dispute, but the chicken provider, Jackson, Miss.-based American Poultry Inc. never got paid, said Chad Roberts, a Jacksonville attorney representing the firm. …

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