A stone’s throw from Canada’s famous Pier 21 museum, which celebrates the stories of immigrants who chose to come to this country, are eight men from Central America, stranded on an insect-infested tugboat, who just want out of here.
Since Dec. 18, when their bright yellow boat, the 69-year-old Craig Trans, was diverted to Halifax because of a storm, these crew members have been sleeping on the boat, which is full of garbage, cockroaches and inoperable showers.
Transport Canada won’t let it leave Halifax because of “poor living conditions and concerns about pollution,” according to a department spokesperson.
The ship’s Florida-based owner, Gerard Antoine, says he is trying to get the money together to fix it.
“I’m working on it,” he said in a telephone interview from New York on Tuesday. He purchased the boat in 2011 and believes it could cost as much as $50,000 to fix. He can’t commit to a time when he will be able to come to Halifax to deal with the problem.
The crew members, meanwhile, spend their days at the Mission to Seafarers, just across the road from where their boat is docked in Halifax Harbour, and live off the generosity of Haligonians, wearing donated clothes, eating food provided by the community and helped by the team at the mission.
“We got no money on us,” said chief mate Pedro Andrade. He says he hasn’t been paid since he joined the crew in early December. He signed on for three months and is to be paid $9,000.
Other crew members, who joined in November, have also not been paid, he says. They were on their way to Montreal to pick up a ship to be towed to Mexico when they came into Halifax because of the storm.
They had run out of food a few days before and the little water they had left was contaminated.
“Maybe God put us [the] right way to Halifax because here we meet people with a huge heart,” said Mr. Andrade, who has a wife and two children in Honduras who depend on him to send money home.
The mission figures it needs between $12,000 and $15,000 to get the crew members home to Honduras and El Salvador. It is appealing to the public for donations. So far, enough Aeroplan points have been donated to get three crew members home.
Helping out, too, is the International Transport Workers’ Federation’s Gerard Bradbury, who called in the media to show them the conditions on the tugboat.
“This is the thing,” he says. “Nobody wants to be seen to be taking action … They’re [the crew members] sort of left in limbo.”
Mr. Bradbury, who has inspected a number of ships during his career, described the conditions as “just horrid” and he has called Health Canada to try to have the boat condemned so the crew can be put up in proper living conditions.
“This is the worst by far that I have ever seen, and these guys are living and sleeping in it on an average of 11 to 14 hours a day,” he noted. “It’s unbelievable.”
A tour of the tugboat proved his point: kitchen drawers full of cockroaches, rusty showers and a space heater in one of the tiny bedrooms.
The owner, Mr. Antoine, suggested the bug infestaton is a result of the crew not cleaning up. He said he came to Halifax in late December and bought them food but they’re eating what is donated because they‘re “too lazy” to cook on the ship.
“If somebody will give you food why should you cook? Why should you cook?” he asked.
The chief mate, Mr. Andrade, says that it’s been “very hard for everybody,” noting that they have no money to get home but when they call their wives they find out about “all the problems at home.”