Stranded sailors despair as 30-month stay on ship docked in Quebec City port continues
Sailors from Ukraine, the Bahamas say they never thought things would get to this point
On the rusted deck of the MV Ethan, Vyacheslav Borshchevskij offers a smile and a hand to the cameraman who has come to record snippets of his daily life.
He's cheery despite the fact he hasn't seen his wife and family back in Ukraine since he flew into Quebec City a few days before Christmas in 2016.
"The hardest thing is to stay here and not being sure there's a good reason," said Borshchevskij.
Richard Thompson, who lives on the ship with Borshchevskij, moves slowly up the narrow stairs to the bridge deck, where a constant beeping signals a battery is dead. One more thing to fix if the ship is to ever leave port.
The two men are both 59, both veteran sailors — and both are at the edge of despair after being stuck on a ship that was supposed to set sail nearly three years ago.
"We never felt it would come to this point," said Thompson, sitting in the MV Ethan's dining room. There are eight chairs and place settings at the table, but it's been almost two years since a full crew has sat down for a meal.
Bahamian company D&D Maritime purchased the ship from the Quebec-based Groupe Desgagnés in the summer of 2016 for more than $750,000 US cash and brought in a crew to get it ready to sail. A year later, the company ran into financial trouble and was unable to pay the crew. Most of them left in 2017.
But Thompson and Borshchevskij say they've been waiting, holding out hope they'll get paid what they're owed: a combined $264,000 US, at this point.
"When I left home, my son was five years of age. Now he's eight, going on nine," said Thompson.
They stayed because they say they were strung along by the ship's owners, who kept promising they would be paid if they could just wait a little longer.
In the maritime world, Thompson said it's "unheard of" to leave a ship unmanned.
Further, federal legislation passed at the end of February automatically transfers ownership of any abandoned vessel to the Canadian government, which would leave the two men without any hope of recouping their wages.
"How can we go home to our families with zero dollars?" said Thompson. "It's an embarrassing situation."
Thompson's family is in Nassau, Bahamas, and keeps asking when he's coming home.
Thompson says he's owed $110,000 US in wages, as well as an additional $50,000, because he paid some of the crew members' paycheques and expenses from his own savings.
Borshchevskij is out $104,000 US.
"We basically kept the ship alive, because we know the ship is worthless if we let it go, if you don't keep the electricity going, the radios warm, the water running through the pipes so they don't freeze," said Thompson.
From bad to worse
Borshchevskij and Thompson have learned to live together. They take turns cooking and leave the ship on occasion — on bicycle or by taxi — for groceries.
Their lowest point came earlier this year.
In April, the Port of Quebec successfully obtained an order from a Federal Court judge to force the sale of the MV Ethan. D&D Maritime had not paid its port fees in more than a year.
Port lawyers argued the state of the ship, built in 1975, was deteriorating and it would be in the best interest of creditors to sell it as soon as possible.
On May 17, it sold for $150,000 US — not nearly enough to pay the men and the Port of Quebec.
"There's no mention of us [in the ruling]," said Thompson. "We've been forgotten."
CBC News contacted one of the owners of D&D Maritime, Chuck Deal, in the Bahamas. He is still making promises.
"We are going to pay whatever bills and the crew. We are waiting for extra funding," said Deal. "It might take us a few months."
Deal would not agree to a recorded interview, but said he is hiring a lawyer to appeal the Federal Court ruling forcing the sale of the ship.
Sailors' last recourse
According to Thompson, it's a general maritime rule that sailors are paid first when a ship is sold. But he's skeptical that will happen.
The pair has filed what's called a "note of protest" to the Federal Court to be considered priority creditors, aiming to make sure that the time they've spent waiting will be worth something.
Borshchevskij says he dreams of going home and taking his grandchildren into his arms, instead of cradling their pictures on a cellphone.
He needs a vacation, too.
But after that, Borshchevskij says he has to get his professional life back in order. During his 30-month stay on the ship, his certification has lapsed.
"That's the biggest problem for me, and I don't know how long it will take for me to refresh my certificate," he said.
As for Thompson, he says he isn't sure he can face his family after using part of their savings to pay to keep the MV Ethan working. He has two grown children in their 20s and two more in their teens.
Thompson had the chance to leave in 2017, when there were still others on the MV Ethan; he'd thought about going home for his birthday on April 23.
"I should have gone and I didn't. And I haven't been home for any birthdays since."
With files from Glenn Wanamaker
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