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Ships stuck permanently in Sussex ports
Foreign seafarers are being left stranded at ports across Sussex after their shipping companies flounder on the brink of bankruptcy.
Angry, confused and disillusioned crew members of various nationalities including Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian, have been living in their vessels for months on end without being paid wages and without an idea of when they can return home.
As well as being unable to feed themselves, the crewmen cannot send funds to their families in their native countries, meaning rent bills go unpaid and their children can no longer go to school.
The ships have been arrested by the Admiralty Marshall, a branch of the Ministry of Justice, due to unpaid fuel bills, mortgages and other maritime lien.
The legal cases may be brought namely against the arrested property itself and not the crew.
The arrested vessels are prevented from moving or trading whilst a resolution of the outstanding claim is thrashed out.
At Shoreham Port, a Cosmoros-registered cargo ship called the Independent has been docked since January 8 as its owners struggle to break free from the grip of the economic downturn.
Its eight crew members, including five Russians and two Ukranians, haven’t been paid any wages since November 2012 and its captain isn’t holding his breath for a resolution.
Russian captain Mikhail Polyakov described how the ship’s owners have been promising to find a resolution every week since they arrived in Sussex.
He said: “We are in a bad situation. We have not been paid for four months and have been stuck here since the start of January.
“The shipping company say things will be sorted next week but I do not believe them, they always say it and nothing is done.
“I have a wife and child back home who I am missing. The ship is our home until we can go back to our proper home.”
Captain Michael Polyakov of the Independent with the arrest notice
Such is the bleak predicament of the stranded seafarers, a local businessman from Shoreham paid a visit to the port to deliver a box of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Delighted at the man’s act of generosity, Mr Polyakov said: “I was very pleased. We need help.”
But Captain Polyakov and his crew aren’t the only ones.
Her Majesty’s Courts and Tri bunals Service said there were 42 warrants of arrest executed in the UK in 2011, up from 34 in 2010.
Apostleship of the Sea, a Catholic charity providing support to seafarers across the globe, deploys a dedicated team of volunteers to visit the crew of arrested vessels in Sussex.
Rev Roger Stone has been spearheading the charity’s effort at eight ports across the South East, including Shoreham and Rye.
He said: “We are a Christian charity that provides practical and spiritual support to seafarers across the world, regardless of belief, nationality or rank.
“Many seafarers of arrested vessels suffer loneliness. They’re far from home and cut off from their culture, family and friends. And it’s not just the crew that suffer.
“If wages aren’t being paid they can’t send money back to their families in their home country.
“This then means the rent can’t be paid, the kids can’t go to school, medical bills aren’t paid and there’s no food. It has a severe knock-on effect.
“Our work is about providing moral support and giving them the opportunity to do normal things whilst the shipping companies sort out their finances.”
Rev Stone and his team of 28 volunteers try to restore normality by offering menial but priceless offerings like internet and phone cards.
He added: “It allows them to speak with their families.
“As well as the necessities, a visit to the museums of Brighton and a trip to a local pub proved a worthy morale-booster for the crew of the Independent.
“They’re the things that we take for granted, but when you’re in their predicament it means a lot.”
But it is possible the pressure of being away from home, without money and relying on charities like the Apostleship of the Sea, is taking its toll on crewmembers.
A spokesman from Sussex Police confirmed they were called to Shoreham Port at 3.47am on Tuesday morning, where a 52-year-old was arrested on suspicion of common assault.
He was questioned but later released without charge and is thought to have returned to the ship.
Rodney Lunn, Chief Executive of the port, said the police were called to the port in the early hours of Tuesday, but he didn’t know the “ins and outs” of the incident.
Officials at the port of Rye, in East Sussex, will be hoping for a calmer visit of the Torrent cargo ship that’s been arrested and docked since January.
The 999-tonne beast carries road stone and has been a regular and non-problematic visitor to the port for many years.
The vessel has a good financial record and port officials believe it’s now in a predicament due to the poor economic situation.
They also said it’s the first arrested vessel the port has ever harboured.
Much like the daytrip in Brighton, The Rye and District Lions Club took the three Russian and three Ukrainian crew of the Torrent for a trip to Rye Market.
They bought fresh meat and vegetables to take back to the ship but were reportedly “down in the dumps” as they hadn’t seen family or been paid for months.
Conrad Freezer, from the Rye and District Lions, said: “It’s dire straits. We took them two huge crates of fish the other week and then took them to the market.
“They were very appreciative but also a bit concerned at the situation, as any normal person would be. They just want to get paid and get on with it.
“It would be no surprise to see them here for another few months.”
The captain of the ship, Russian Alexander Moiseev, said his crew had only received one part-payment of wages since October and said they were worried about the welfare of their families.
It’s believed the ship’s owners have debts in excess of £1million.
A third arrested ship at Shoreham Port, The Thames, is believed to be home to crew members whose contract of employment has expired, though they refuse to go home until they have been paid.
Asked whether there was a risk of seafarers disappearing unaccounted for into the country, Rev Stone said: “There is no chance of them running off. They don’t want to be here really, they want to be home with their families and of course, get paid.
“You find a lot of the seafarers are from quite religious backgrounds and countries where faith is important.
“As well as providing the physical support like DVDs and financial contributions, we provide spiritual support too.
“We come together for prayer and Holy Communion, which in turn offers stability and hope.”
Rev Stone’s work for the Apostleship of the Sea contributes to the charity’s global efforts, which costs them in the region of £1million a year.
Last year their volunteers visited more than 10,000 ships worldwide and gave support to more than 200,000 seafarers.
He added: “I’ve been doing this for about three years now and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
“It’s great to see people we’ve supported writing on our Facebook wall and thanking us for their help and giving us an update on how they’re doing.
“Arrested vessels are just another unfortunate by-product of the poor economic situation. It’s important we help.”
Chris Grosscurth, Shipping Manager at Independent Shipping, the owner of the vessels at Shoreham and Rye, blamed the firm’s situation on the “continuing strained economic climate”.
He said: “Due to the adverse effects this has had on the Shipping Industry, Independent Shipping is in a position where vessels have stopped trading.
“Every effort is being made to find a solution and all our crews on the vessels are top priority.”
For more information on the Apostleship of the Sea charity, visit apostleshipofthesea.org.uk.
Facing up to angry flight passengers
IT’S not just shipping companies that are struggling to pay the bills.
In December 2011, more than 70 Air Zimbabwe passengers were stranded at Gatwick Airport for nearly a week after the airline struggled to pay debts of nearly £1million.
The Airbus 767-200, named Victoria Falls, was seized by American General Supplies when it touched down at the airport following a US court injunction for the unpaid debt.
The passengers, mostly Zimbabwean, were given camp beds and sleeping bags to use on the floor of the airport whilst company bosses came to a resolution.
Air Zimbabwe’s London manager at the time, David Mwenga, had to flee Gatwick from fuming Zimbabweans after he was unable to provide them with a definite departure date.
The passengers were eventually checked into a local hotel but refused to leave until the airline reimbursed them for their flight tickets.
What is the Admiralty Marshal?
Admiralty and Commercial courts, also known as maritime courts, hold exercising jurisdiction over all maritime offences, including contract breaches, collisions, salvage, mortgage disputes and other financial issues.
In this country, admiralty jurisdiction is exercised by the High Court of England and Wales. The admiralty laws which are exercised in the court are based upon Law of the Sea, as well as statutory and common law.
Arrest warrants are issued following disputes over unpaid wages, for example, and the vessels are “arrested” and held in British ports until the claimant of the dispute reaches a satisfactory resolution with the shipping company.
A ship is arrested by the marshal acting as an officer of the court.
The ship comes into the custody, but not the possession, of the marshal and once arrested, a ship cannot be moved from the place of arrest without the authority of the marshal.
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