Sailors head home after 3 years living aboard rusting ship docked in Quebec City

While they were never paid what they were promised, Vyacheslav Borshchevskij and Richard Thompson were finally able to say goodbye to the MV Ethan — a ship they called home for three years while it was docked in Quebec City.

Holding onto hope they'd one day be paid for their troubles, 2 veteran sailors refuse to abandon the MV Ethan

Richard Thompson hasn’t seen his family in Nassau, Bahamas since the summer of 2016 when he flew to Quebec City in order to get the MV Ethan ready to sail. (Catou MacKinnon/CBC)

After 35 months living on a docked cargo ship in Quebec City, Richard Thompson is finally headed home to The Bahamas.

He leaves with mixed emotions.

"Quebec City feels comfortable. You feel like you're leaving home to go home," he said.

"The bottom line is, I'm going home."

Thompson's ordeal began in the summer of 2016 when the 59-year-old sailor was hired by D&D Maritime, a Bahamian company that bought the 44-year-old ship from a Quebec-based company, to help make the rusty MV Ethan seaworthy.

But the ship's owner ran into financial trouble and was unable to pay what it owed to the Port of Quebec, let alone the wages of its hired hands. 

Most of the crew abandoned ship in 2017, but Thompson stuck around with another sailor, Vyacheslav Borshchevskij, a Ukrainian. The two veteran sailors stayed put in the hope of eventually getting paid.

Vyacheslav Borshcheskij and Richard Thompson took turns cooking, developing a strong bond in the years they lived together in the Quebec City port. (CBC)

Waiting for pay

Built in Canada, the MV Ethan measures 108 metres long, roughly the length of a soccer field and 15 metres wide. Onboard, living quarters included a kitchen, bathroom, heating and air conditioning. 

"Living on a ship like is like living in a house, really," said Thompson. It "might not be as comfortable, but you have all the amenities of a home."

Though it no longer was paying its port fees, D&D Maritime did occasionally send a bit of cash to the men for groceries and other necessities, telling them more money was on the way.

But the sailors' months of being strung along with promises of financial compensation turned into years.

The Port of Quebec obtained an order from a Federal Court judge to force the sale of the MV Ethan last April, two months after new federal legislation was passed, automatically transferring ownership of any abandoned vessel to the Canadian government.

The MV Ethan was auctioned off in May for $150,000 US — about $600,000 below its original price — and finally, Thompson's luck seemed to turn around.

Seaworthy at last

Thompson said he developed a deep bond with Borshchevskij after living in close quarters for so long, sharing meals, tending ship and holding on to hope.

"We're like brothers," he said.

"We didn't want to abandon the ship, and we hoped at the end of the day, somebody would have come through and pay us."

Thompson claims he and his shipmate were each owed $100,000 US, and although they never saw the big payday they were promised, Thompson said the ship's current owner, based in Africa, paid him and Borshchevskij decent wages to get the ship seaworthy over the last seven months. The ship set sail just before Christmas.

"These guys came in, gave us a job; we made some money, and it's not all bad," Thompson said.

"It's not a fairy tale ending, but sometimes you just have to take the cards you're dealt."

The MV Ethan was sold in July 2016 to D&D Maritime, a company partly owned by Chuck Deal in the Bahamas. (Bruno Giguère/Radio-Canada)

Sailors' club chips in

Over the years the pair lived on the boat, they got to know Jean Laporte, the volunteer manager of La Maison du Marin, a non-profit agency that's been helping sailors who disembark at the port for more than 170 years.

Laporte said he had sympathy for Thompson and Borshchevskij's dilemma.

"If you work for a guy here who goes bankrupt, you just stay home," said Laporte. "But when your boss is on the other side of the earth, and the money doesn't come ,and the docking fees aren't paid, that's a more complicated situation."

He watched as the two men stayed aboard, determined to keep the ship afloat with hope they'd one day get paid. La Maison du Marin provided the men with groceries, warm clothing and internet access.

"We were very glad to see the ship leave," Laporte said. "We didn't know exactly if they would leave or not."

Finally, Borshchevskij went home to Ukraine in mid-December, and Thompson flew to Halifax Monday, with plans to make it home to The Bahamas in time to celebrate the New Year. 

After that — who knows?

As happy as Thompson is to be reuniting with his family, he says life is not going to suddenly get easy once he gets to the Caribbean.

"After the hurricanes, now everything is just chaotic. What I'm hearing, in The Bahamas, it's economically not good."

with files from Brian Lapuz


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