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Prisoners on abandoned ships

Apostleship of the Sea

Prisoners on an abandoned ship

Fifteen sailors live for more than a month on an anchored ship, outside the port of Augusta.

Their owner has abandoned them, close to hunger, only a priest bring them food and helps.

Abandoned by the owner of the ship, fifteen seafarers live for more than a month like imprisoned on their ship anchored near Augusta's harbor . Their only hope: the cargo that they transport, 3200 tons of wheat, it is still on board and they don't have intention to unload it, unless they get their wages. We are ready to die, they tell, and the captain, Gianni Lappos, has repeated it to the owner of the wheat. Fifteen crew members, three Greek, ten Pakistanis and two Syrian, they did sign on last October in Syria for the ship "Flash". The owner of the wheat is Turkish while the buyer is in Algeria. The Flash is managed by an elusive Honduran company behind which probably hide a Greek owner. Bad weather and technical problems have forced the Flash to shelter in Augusta's harbour . Inspected, the Flash has been stopped for her precarious safety conditions. In this lapse of time, the owner, evidently heavily indebted , has disappeared and he has threaten the sailors. The debts would amount to around 80,000 Euro for pay and to 20,000 for ports expenses. The crew, has asked help to the ITF (International Transport Federation), and begun a strike. The strike however it is also a boomerang, - having the courage to protest these seafarers won't be hired any more by any company. « We are not mendicant, we are professionals- explains the Chief Officer Aminbokhari - we ask what is due to us». Any of them to get this job had to pay a kickback of 4,000 dollars. Their monthly salary, never received, should have been around 600 dollars : working for six months they would have recovered the money "invested" and in the following months would have begun to earn.

« In Pakistan the family system is very different explains the Chief Officer- a person that works doesn't support only his family, but also that of his brother, of his father. Behind each of us there is twenty people that suffer». If we get a telephone card we call home but« one thing is tell " I am well, another to send money». The management company hired them with deception: they knew that the ship was new built in 2001, instead she is dilapidated one and built in 1967, they did not signed any written contract.
The lawyer David Raffa that represent the seafarers on behalf of the labor union has obtained by the Judge of Siracusa the precautionary confiscation of the ship , this order has to be ratified on 12 February. If they won't be paid the lawyer has proposed the sale of part of the cargo to provide for the need of the crew. But this would not include the expenses of the repatriation. « How it is possible that today still exist this type of owners and this type of ships still sailing the sea of the world? - The Chief Officer insists we have joined the ship to work not to die».

Exploited and tangled many times, these unlucky seafarers has found however an unexpected friend ,« the only one who he is worrying about us» they told us, the port Chaplain of Augusta Fr. Giuseppe Mazzotta. The priest, spiritual guide also of the association Stella Maris has taken to his heart the fate of the sailors and is doing all he can to help them. « If a judge order to unload the wheat in Augusta for the sailors would be the end. Nobody could defend them at international level. Stopped here in the middle of the harbour, how long they can hold out?». Since the provisions have finished on the Flash, he is Fr. Giuseppe with his parish and the Stella Maris that provides for the survival of the crew. « We at the Stella Maris welcome all seafarers of any nationality or religion, not to convert them, our evangelization is a warm welcome». The men of the Flash look at him with tears in theirs eyes, very thankful but they can not reciprocate; while the 3200 tons of wheat with the heat risk to get spoiled .
Augusta (Siracusa) Maria Gabriella Leonardi
Freely translated from an article appeared on the newspaper "Avvenire" early February 2004
Thursday 19-02-2004, the "Avvenire" reported that the controversy has not been resolved. By now the ship,out of provisions, must be supplied also with fresh water.

WHEAT UNLOADED: Saturday 22 February the "Avvenire" reports the news that the judge of Siracusa has ordered to discharge the wheat. "This sentence has undermined the right to strike and it is a dangerous precedent that will damage other seafarers in similar situations" has affirmed Fr. Giuseppe Mazzotta.

It appears hard to obtain an accord at the last hour due to the different position between the captain and the owner.

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updated 10 February 2024
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