Menpas Shipping calls stranded Turkish sailors' allegations 'false'
Transport Canada puts Phoenix Sun in detention to force ship's owner to clean up situation
Allegations that 12 Turkish sailors stranded in Sorel-Tracy, Que., haven't been paid in two months and are starving are false, a shipping company representative says.
The Turkish sailors say they haven't been paid for two months and are now out of food, a situation called "barbaric and beyond comprehension" by a union representing seafarers.
The crew arrived in Sorel-Tracy in April to help ready the Panamanian-flagged Phoenix Sun to be moved for dismantling overseas.
The sailors showed CBC News signed contracts with a company called Menpas Shipping and Trading in Burlington, Ont. The company's logo also appears on the ship's smokestack.
CBC News spoke with a representative of the company, Mengu Pasinli, whose name appears on business cards attached to the contracts.
Pasinli said his logo is a very common one, and that there is no connection between Menpas and the owners of the ship.
Late on Friday afternoon, Transport Canada issued a statement saying one its inspectors had boarded the Pheonix Sun based on a complaint from one of the crew members and decided to detain the ship.
Transport Canada said the detention order compels the owner to act quickly to clean up the situation by paying and repatriating the crew members aboard the Phoenix Sun.
Earlier Friday, Pasinli told CBC that he had nothing to do with the ship. When CBC contacted him again later in the day, he said he did not own the ship but did have a contract to manage the ship's crew.
Pasinli said he hadn't paid the 12 sailors for two months because he was waiting for their repatriation. He told CBC News his plan was to pay them after they were repatriated to Turkey.
The contracts he signed with the sailors stipulates that he pay them once a month between the first and the fifth of the month.
Pasinli called the sailors' allegations of not being sent food false.
"There is no such suffering," he said, adding food shipments he has sent to the crew were being intercepted and cancelled by the union.
Pasinli said he believed such allegations were being made by competitors looking to "spoil" his business.
Feels like 'prison'
Semih Ozkan, the ship's captain, told CBC News that being stuck on the ship feels like "prison," and not being paid is affecting the crew's families as well.
"It's very stressful," he said. "Our families also depend on our wages. We're broke."
The rusted 186-metre freighter has been docked at Sorel-Tracy since Nov. 2012, and residents had recently initiated a petition to have it removed.
Radio-Canada reports that Sorel-Tracy officials aren't sure who owns it because of the number of times it has been sold and resold by numbered companies.
Whoever owns the ship owes the city $60,000 in docking fees.
The men are being assisted by the Seafarers’ International Union of Canada (SIU), which donated funds and is now supplying the sailors with food.
"Our brother sailors from Turkey came on board this Flag of Convenience vessel to work and earn a living. To be left without food is barbaric and beyond comprehension," James Given, president, SIU of Canada, said in a news release.
'Very hungry' sailors glad to get food
Vince Giannopoulos, an inspector with the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), told Radio-Canada the men were glad to receive the food.
“They were very hungry,” he said.
The ITF is working with Transport Canada to ensure the sailors get their monthly wages, estimated at between $500 and $800, and flights home as soon as possible.
“Imagine, you’re stuck in a foreign country without a salary, without money for buying a plane ticket to return to your country, and your food is running out,” Giannopoulos said.
He said sailors are often reluctant to lodge complaints against shipowners, and the fact they did is proof of their desperation.
“I admire their perseverance in a very trying situation,” he said.
On Friday, Sorel-Tracy Mayor Serge Péloquin pledged the city's help for the stranded sailors, and community organizations offered to provide the men with meals and showers.