Yugoslav sailors given break from 'prison' ship Churches provide respite for a day

September 07, 1992|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff Writer

For just a few hours, 10 Yugoslavian sailors yesterday escaped the ship that has become their prison.

At St. Mary's Antiochian Orthodox Church on Shawan Road, they swigged from a bottle of plum brandy, ate heartily and had a few laughs as members of three Orthodox churches gathered for a dinner in their honor. But when the party ended, they joined 18 mates on the cargo ship Durmitor in Baltimore's outer harbor to await the end of an international stalemate that has trapped the crew since July 14.

"It was nice that everyone contributed food," said the ship's cook, Jovan Marinovi, 41, of Montenegro. "But now we don't need food. We need our freedom."

"We still feel like we're in jail, in prison," said the 45-year-old captain, Luka Brguljan, who is also from Montenegro.

The crew of 28 has fallen victim to President Bush's executive order to freeze assets of companies believed to be owned by the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Those include the Durmitor, a 514-foot ship that for months has been running cargo from the United States to South America.

The ship was about to leave the Dundalk Marine Terminal for New York on July 14 when U.S. Customs officers stepped aboard and ordered the ship detained. And there it sits.

A newspaper article about the sailors caught the attention of the Very Rev. George F. Romley, pastor of St. Mary's. On Aug. 27, he took a tug out to the Durmitor, climbed aboard with a suitcase containing several icons and, at the captain's request, held a Communion service.

Captain Brguljan told the pastor that the ship's stock of fresh fruit and vegetables was depleted. The following day, Mr. Romley and Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd-Md., arranged to have a half-ton of produce, bread and cake sent to the ship.

An abundance of food was set before the sailors again yesterday, as members of St. Mary's and two Orthodox churches in Washington and Pennsylvania pitched in to serve up steaks, sausages, hamburgers, macaroni salad and pastries. It had been planned as an outdoor picnic, but rain forced the party indoors.

"We wanted to give them a day of fun and a good time to take their minds off the worry, to do whatever we could to alleviate some of the pain they must be feeling," Mr. Romley said.

The sailors face a sea of troubles. They have not been paid in three months, and they fear the company they work for -- which has five ships detained in four U.S. ports -- is in severe financial straits. The country they left behind months ago has been torn asunder by war and terror. Two of the sailors have not been home in more than a year; one has never seen his infant son.

The men have been spending their days performing chores, watching videos and television, and wondering how their work has anything to do with international politics.

"What we don't understand is we didn't cause the war," said Captain Brguljan. "We don't know any reason for the detention of the ship."

"I am an ordinary citizen," said third mate Nebojsa Milosevic, 27. "I'm not involved in politics. I just want to do my job."

The situation is all the more baffling to the men because, as they understand it, the company that owns the ship -- Jugoslavenska Oceanska Plozidba -- has been sold to a Maltese investors' group. The owners filed suit against the federal government, but on Aug. 10 a judge denied their request for relief from detention.

"The irony of it is," said Mrs. Bentley, "we keep saying, 'Throw off the shackles of communism and go to privatization.' That's exactly what this company is doing. It was in the process of being privatized. There were a couple of strings that hadn't been cut. That's the problem."

The sailors appreciate everything that the church has done for them. But it puzzles the ship's cook.

"It's strange that the people of Baltimore have been so helpful," ,, Mr. Marinovi said through an interpreter. "But the American government is the one that won't let us leave."

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