Unlucky crewmembers stranded on two big container ships of the bankrupt Hanjin line won't be home for Christmas, but that didn't mean the Christmas spirit bypassed them this week. The ships are being held indefinitely in the vicinity of Victoria at the behest of creditors.
The sailors are pawns in a global bankruptcy process involving what was until recently the world's seventh largest container line. Canadian authorities detained the two Hanjin ships in early September at the request of port operator DP World for unpaid bills.
With the holidays approaching, maritime labor unions and members of the Filipino community in Victoria gathered donations for the marooned crew. The donated goods were delivered by small boats on Tuesday.
"Their English is very limited, but they seemed very happy for us to bring supplies to them,” charter boat owner Steve St. Pierre said upon his return from delivering the Christmas cheer to the Hanjin Scarlet.
St. Pierre runs First Class Fishing Charters and Adventures in Victoria when he's not working at BC Ferries. The BC Ferry & Marine Workers' Union was a lead participant in the care package wrangling.
"They were cheering loudly when we came on the scene," recalled Kevin Lee, a provincial vice president with the ferry workers' union, of the reception at sea. He rode with St. Pierre to the Scarlet's anchorage.
St. Pierre said the delivered gifts included Christmas trees, two roast pigs (one pre-cooked, stuffed with garlic and one to cook on Christmas Eve), fresh fruit, a basketball and winter clothes. Lee said DVDs, rice, eggs, milk, new work gloves and a Playstation video game console to pass the time were also among the more than two tons of provisions hoisted up to the Scarlet in cargo nets.
The 837-foot cargo ship dwarfed the visitors' three small boats from Victoria, Vancouver and Salt Spring Island Tuesday.
"They needed winter clothing," St. Pierre observed. "They obviously weren't prepared for the elements that Canada has at this time of year."
Stranded crewmembers said they are being paid but don't know when they will get to go home.
"You feel for them. It's a situation that nobody wants to be in," St. Pierre said. "Hopefully that will make them a little bit happier and a little bit less apprehensive."
Vancouver-based International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 400 Secretary-Treasurer Jason Woods scrambled on board to convey the care packages collected by a network of mainland organizations. He also carried a message of solidarity.
"This is the true cost of (Hanjin) going bankrupt. It's the human cost," Woods said in an interview Wednesday. "They didn't ask for this."
The Hanjin Scarlet has 16 crew on board from the Philippines and South Korea.
Another 18 international crewmembers are marooned aboard the Hanjin Vienna. The Mission to Seafarers has been checking on their welfare. A spokeswoman for the ship's operator told the Victoria Times Colonist newspaper that the Vienna has ample supplies to prepare festive meals for Christmas and New Year's Eve.
The 915-foot Hanjin Vienna has been anchored at Constance Bank in the Strait of Juan de Fuca south of Victoria since early September with the exception of a short port call in Vancouver, British Columbia, to unload her cargo in late November.
The Scarlet crew's ordeal started with weeks in limbo near Prince Rupert, BC, which was broken by a brief port call at Vancouver to unload cargo. The emptied ship is now tucked in sheltered Plumper Sound between Saturna and North Pender islands, a few miles north of the U.S.-Canada maritime border.
Both of these Hanjin ships were in a trans-Pacific rotation that used to call on the Port of Seattle about once per week to carry cargo to and from Japan, South Korea and China. South Korea-based Hanjin Shipping used to call at the Port of Portland too, but dropped that service in early 2015 because of a port labor dispute.