Crew members savor freedom after five months on ship

Latin American crew members finally set foot on land after being detained for five months aboard a cargo ship in the Port of Baltimore.

Thirteen crew members left the Snow Bird Sept. 17 after getting the go-ahead from federal authorities, who had forbidden the crew to leave and held the ship because of safety concerns and unpaid fees and debts, officials said.

Crew members rejoiced when they finally got off ship.

“It’s like one continuous party; they’re so happy now,” said Joseph P. Buccheri, a chaplain for the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Stella Maris Apostleship of the Sea ministry. “They’re walking along the dock. They were feeding the seagulls. It’s like watching children at play.”

The ordeal began in early April when the Snow Bird docked for what crew members figured would be a short layover before continuing to the next destination. Safety concerns, including the strength of the ship’s hull, and the fees and debts prompted authorities to keep the ship in port.

During their confinement, the crew members received donations of food, water, Spanish bibles, clothing, prayer books, phone cards and Spanish-language newspapers. Donors included the Apostleship of the Sea and parishioners at St. Rita, Dundalk; St. Paul, Ellicott City; and St. Louis, Clarksville.

One of the crewmen flew to his home in Honduras, but others plan to live aboard the ship while it is in port, Mr. Buccheri said.

Apostleship of the Sea reaches out to many of the more than 2,000 ships that arrive in the Port of Baltimore each year through prayer, financial help and volunteer work, like providing transportation.

Monsignor John L. FitzGerald, head of AOS ministry, celebrated Mass in Spanish aboard ship.

“If I were a seafarer and I were on that ship from April to September, I would say I was in prison,” Monsignor FitzGerald said.

On the weekend of Sept. 20-21, the crewmen attended Mass at Our Lady of Hope, Dundalk.

“That was our prayer,” Mr. Buccheri said. “And God has answered their prayers.”

Mr. Buccheri took the crew members shopping at White Marsh Mall, then to the Apostleship of the Sea seafarer center, where they checked e-mail, called home and loaded up on donated winter clothes and reading material. They also visited the Inner Harbor.

When they passed a packed M&T Bank Stadium, the number of fans amazed them.

How, they asked, could they get tickets to a Ravens game?

Ulric Ramdin, a ship manager sent here to represent the Snow Bird’s owner, Didco Trading Co. Limited, of Georgetown, Guyana, said most of the $300,000 fees and debts had been paid. Interior repairs should be completed by October, when the ship likely will go into dry-dock in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic, for more repairs, he said.

Mr. Ramdin said he expected crew members aboard ship would be fed and paid here and when the ship is being repaired in Santo Domingo.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.