A SHIP’S crew have headed home after being stranded on the Tyne for seven weeks – but the future of the vessel they leave behind remains uncertain.
The Panama-registered Donald Duckling has been held at the port since the middle of November by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency because of a long list of safety concerns.
The action was taken when it was found to be in an “appalling” state of disrepair.
Its crew were forced to fish off the side of the boat for food after their supplies ran out.
Maritime inspectors said conditions on board the cargo ship were among the worst they had ever seen, with Nautilus International Transport Workers’ Federation inspector Tommy Molloy branding it a “Mickey Mouse operation”.
The largely Filipino crew spent Christmas on board the vessel, docked on the north side of the river.
The ship’s captain and chief engineer are still here, but the other 11 crew flew home on Thursday.
On hand to bid them a fond farewell at Newcastle Airport was Diane Erskine, manager at the Mission to Seafarers in South Shields, which has been offering the crew support in recent weeks.
She said: “The crew were elated to be going home, but some were also quite emotional because they realised they were leaving behind some very good friends.
“Many of the 11 men flying off said they would be coming back, and one has applied for a fishing job at North Shields.”
As the 11 Filipinos are reconciled with their families, uncertainty remains over the fate of the Duckling.
On Tuesday, the vessel is due to move from its berth at the Port of Tyne on the north side of the river across to the former McNulty yard in South Shields.
But a spokesman for the agency said its Taiwanese owner, TMT Shipping, had yet to carry out any of the repairs required for it to leave the river, adding that there was no time limit on how long it remains here.
TMT is now planning to send a replacement Chinese crew to the Tyne.
The Filipinos have been assisted in their repatriation by seafarers’ welfare organisation the Apostleship of the Sea (AoS), which has been providing them with practical support since the vessel’s arrest on November 12.
AoS Tyne port chaplain Paul Atkinson said: “There were mixed emotions. Obviously, the crew are delighted to be going home to their families, but they have yet to receive their outstanding wages.”
He added that AoS was also able to secure free passage home for the ship’s Romanian captain, and he is expected to be repatriated next week.
The ship’s 11 Filipino crew members were paid for October and November and partially for December, as were its Romanian crew.
The Duckling, meant to be collecting a cargo of scrap to take to Korea, arrived on the Tyne with 15 days of provisions. However, faulty refrigeration meant they lasted only three days.
Since then, AoS and other port-based agencies such as the Mission to Seafarers have been providing food and drinking water for the crew, with the help of the local community.
“We will continue to assist the remaining crew in any way we can until all are safely repatriated,” said Mr Atkinson.