South American freighter set to be sold at auction

June 12, 1993|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Staff Writer

A dilapidated South American freighter, which was detained more than a month ago by the U.S. Coast Guard and docked at Canton Marine Terminal, will be auctioned. But the fate of its 18-member Ecuadorean crew and one stowaway remained uncertain yesterday.

The federal court in Baltimore approved requests this week to sell the 452-foot vessel after the ship's Columbian owner notified the U.S. Marshal here that it did not intend to make the repairs that the Coast Guard has insisted were needed to make it safe.

A spokesman for the Coast Guard said the owner, Denver Shipping Co. of Cali, Columbia, promised to send plane tickets for the crew to return home. By late yesterday, however, no tickets had been received.

"They want to go home, but they don't want to leave the ship until they're paid because they fear that they'll never be able to get in touch with the company again," said Lt. Mark Williams, safety officer for the Coast Guard.

The crew has not been paid since mid-May. As supplies dwindled last week, the ship's owner finally sent money for food and fuel oil.

Lieutenant Williams said the owner asked that the U.S. government deport the Tanzanian stowaway who boarded the ship in Brazil.

Known as the Advance, the ship sailed into Baltimore's Inner Harbor in May to unload 11,000 tons of unrefined sugar at the Domino refinery. Immediately, the Coast Guard invoked the rarely used international law called SOLAS -- Safety of Life at Sea -- and ordered it to dock until repairs were made.

Lieutenant Williams said the Coast Guard met yesterday with attorneys for Agriculture and Commercial Bank of Panama, which holds the $3.2 million note on the ship.

The freighter will be auctioned within the next couple weeks, according to an attorney representing the bank.

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