Unpaid bill strands Yugoslav crew

Tuesday, January 30, 2001

The ship is able to sail but has been impounded for its bills

By Ronen Zilberman, Star-Bulletin
A Honolulu seaman who befriended the Obod crew says one
man gave him a letter asking for help and calling the crew
"innocent prisoners." The ship is able to sail but has been
impounded for its bills. Above, the crew loaded supplies
onto the Yugoslavian-owned ship Wednesday.

Debt bars a Yugoslav ship, here for repair in November, from leaving Honolulu

By Pat Gee

Star-Bulletin

Crew members have spent the past two months aboard a rusting Yugoslavia-owned vessel in an isolated section of Honolulu Harbor, looking for contact with the outside world.

The Obod has been docked since Nov. 4 after developing engine trouble at sea. Towed in by tugboat, it has been stuck here because repair costs and other fees haven't been paid.

An immigration law allowed the crew to travel ashore only for the first 29 days upon arrival, but their freedom to leave the ship ended the first week of December.

The owners of the ship owe the tugboat company and several Hawaii companies more than $500,000 in bills for services. The ship has been repaired and can sail once it passes inspection.

But because the towing company, Nordic Technical Development Inc., was afraid the ship would sail without settling its bill, it had U.S. marshals seize the ship Dec. 28, said company attorney Brian Ho.

And nine crew members have asked local attorney Paul Cronin to represent them in a dispute over wages, Ho said.

US marshals seized the ship

By Ronen Zilberman, Star-Bulletin
U.S. marshals seized the ship Dec. 28 at the request of a
debtor that feared the Obod's owners would evade payment.

The crew is going stir-crazy after sitting idle for so long, according to Honolulu merchant seaman Louis Mendez, who has befriended the men.

He told the Star-Bulletin that he and the Sailor's Union of the Pacific have tried to be "good Samaritans" by providing phone cards, newspapers, food and anything else the men might ask for.

Mendez said a member of the crew gave him a letter on behalf of several others, saying, "We need your help." In broken English, the letter described the men as "innocent prisoners ... living in stress."

The men said they have been working for five months but have only been paid for two, Mendez said. They said they were afraid to reveal their names in the letter, and none would agree to be interviewed.

Ann Stevens, general manager of Kerr Norton Marine, said her company has been responsible for paying the crew and obtaining services for the ship on behalf of the owner, Barmar-Bar Ship Management Ltd.

But the owner stopped sending money in early December, except for two payments specifically designated for the crew's wages.

The ship was carrying steel beams and ingots for construction of a convention center in downtown Washington, D.C., Stevens said. But because a small part of the 208-odd tons of steel slipped off deck during a storm and some materials were damaged, the designer ordered steel from another source, she said.

Stevens said her company, as well as Nordic, is supplying electricity and food and other basic necessities while negotiations continue with Barmar-Bar.

The Obod was first towed into Honolulu in September for engine trouble. The vessel left, but had to be towed in again by Nordic on Oct. 14 after further engine trouble at sea, Ho said.