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Freighter Anchored in Delaware River Is Virtual Prison Ship For Crew of 20

By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Twenty crew members have been stuck aboard a cargo ship in the Delaware River since April, and it's uncertain when they'll be allowed to come ashore.

The ship needs repairs in order to resume its voyage, and its owner is too broke to pay.  The crew is confined to the ship, and there's no sign that they'll be able to leave anytime soon.

The freighter Nikol H needs a berth so it can get repairs the US Coast Guard has ordered, but there's a problem: it's already accrued more than $1 million in debt since it arrived in April.

As Pastor Bill Rex, of the Seamen's Church Institute in Philadelphia, says, "It doesn't take a whole lot of logic to figure out that if debts have not been paid up to this point and all the litigants are in court trying to get their money, that any other company's not going to jump right in."

So, the ship sits at anchor and the crewmembers can't get off because of a 100-year-old law that says foreign sailors can come ashore for only 29 days after they arrive at a port.

Rex has been tending to their spiritual needs since April and he says morale is good.  But of the crew, he notes, "You're on board a very small space."

He says the crew -- mostly Filipino-- would like to come ashore for a bit and stretch their legs.

If the ship is sold, that could break the logjam. In the meantime, Rex says, "These men are caught between a rock and a hard place -- between the company and their debtors."


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