Famine Ship To Finally Sail After Three Months Of Legal Problems
PORT EVERGLADES, Fla. (AP) _ A famine relief ship loaded with 8,000 tons of food for Mozambique and Jordan has been given approval to sail after a three-month delay caused by legal problems.
The 416-foot Porto Coroni, with food donated by the the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the World Vision relief organization, and the United Nations, was scheduled to leave today, said Graham Bott, president of Tampa-based Afram Lines.
But its departure later was delayed by 24 hours without explanation, port officials said today. Bott was out of the office when called for comment.
″It’s the final chapter,″ Bott said. ″We’ve spent $1 million putting the ship right, we’ve paid up everybody and we’re set to go. The ship will complete its mission.″
The way was cleared for the ship Tuesday when U.S. District Judge Alcee Hastings lifted a federal seizure order after the owners agreed to post a $65,000 bond aganst outstanding claims.
Departure was set for Wednesday night, but crew members canceled to make some last-minute engine repairs, said Port Director Thomas Burke.
The Porto Coroni’s saga began in March when it left New Orleans bound for Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan and famine-plagued Mozambique with $1.7 million worth of pinto beans, corn meal, soybean oil and flour.
The USDA had donated much of the food to World Vision, of Monrovia, Calif., for Mozambique, while the United Nations was using the ship to send flour to the Palestinians.
But the ship broke down 25 miles off of the Cuban coast, and was towed into Port Everglades, in Fort Lauderdale, on April 3. At that time the Greek owners, who were acting through a Panamanian company, simply washed their hands of the ship and its 18-member crew, said harbormaster Robert Richards. The Panamanian company, Defender Bay Shipping, said it did not have the funds to repair damages, pay the crew and take care of the port fees.
The foreign-born crew could not leave the ship because they had no papers legally admitting them to the United States, and quickly ran short of food in the galley.
As unpaid port charges and other fees mounted, Hastings ordered the ship seized, and Afram, then the ship’s agent, stepped in to buy it. The company then settled what it considered legitimate claims.
The old crew was fed, paid off and flown home, and Afram hired a new crew, said Bott.
Burke said he agreed to accept $27,000, or about half of the docking fees the Porto Coroni owed, ″for humanitarian reasons.″
After the seizure order was lifted Tuesday, Afram rushed to get the ship ready to leave, in part because the company worried that the former owners would file ″spurious claims″ against the ship, said Bott.
The stored food ″appears to be in very good condition,″ said Bott, but he added the company would only know for certain when the voyage is completed in about 50 days.