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Abandoned sailors marooned off Texas

Jan 1, 2003

The seemingly endless tribulations of a group of Pakistani sailors marooned on their ship off Mexico and Texas will likely have a happy outcome. The 22 merchant seamen have been stuck aboard their 738-foot break-bulk freighter Delta Pride since June 1and were still aboard, anchored off Brownsville, Texas, at press time in late January.

Delta Pride was underway in the Gulf of Mexico in May 1998 having discharged cargo a short time before when a message from the Pakistani owners arrived via telex. "The crew was told that the company was bankrupt but that they should proceed to Tampico, Mexico, for further instructions and resupply," said Will Aten, a chaplain with the sailor's relief organization International Seamen's Center in Brownsville. "When they got to Tampico there was no word from the owners. Then the Mexican authorities confiscated the ship's papers and the crew's passports because they claimed the ship owed $50,000 in port fees."

The sailors remained in Mexico until November when the captain decided their only recourse was to pull the anchor and steam for the closest American portBrownsville, Texas. "He said they were all desperate, even on the verge of suicide, because living conditions were so bad and there was so little hope. But he said he opened the drawer to his desk at one point and found an American $10 bill. After reading the words 'In God We Trust,' he felt inspired to act," Aten said.

The ship reached the U.S. three-mile territorial limit and then immediately ran out of fuel. They dropped anchor and have been there since November 24. The crew has been supplied food and water by Aten's relief agency, local pilots, and a supply company, and have received assistance from an agent in New Orleans, Shaikh Mohammad Salim, who has been offering loans and legal aid.

Despite the long isolation, frequently with no water save what was collected in rusty barrels on deck and no fuel for cooking, the sailors will likely be paid back wages and given airfare for their return to Pakistan, according to Salim. He said that abandonment of ship's personnel is an increasingly common occurrence, perhaps because of the unstable Asian economy, but that the American legal system usually works in favor of abandoned sailors.

"Sailors who end up in an American port, without money and owed back wages, usually get paid back when the ship is auctioned," Salim said. "But there are multiple instances abroad where the sailors are just given airfare and told to leave the country, even though they may be owed several years' wages."

The Pakistanis anchored off Texas would likely be paid off in mid-February, according to Salim.