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By John Helmer in Moscow

The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador has ordered the arrest of the Russian-owned cruise vessel, Lyubov Orlova, after the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) filed suit last week on behalf of the crew. The 49 Russian and 2 Ukrainian mariners have been stranded on the vessel at the port of St. John’s, Newfoundland, after the Russian owners stopped payments four months ago.

The Canadian court has moved swiftly to aid the crew, while the Russian Prosecutor General, the federal Foreign Ministry and its embassy in Ottawa, and the federal Ministry of Transport are delaying to protect the fugitive vessel owners.

The crew’s union representatives told the court at a hearing on Friday that they are owed more than C$270,000 in salaries. The arrest order gives the vessel charterer, Cruise North Expeditions, and the owners Oleg Ulyanchenko and Oleg Abramov, 60 days in which to reply in court, or resolve this and other debt claims which have halted cruise operations. An earlier debt claim was filed in the Canadian court for unpaid debts which are believed to include bunker fuel and other vessel services. The latest court action secures the crew as an additional creditor for repayment in the event the Russian owners default, and the vessel is sold. There has been court action in Newfoundland before over the unpaid debts of the Lyubov Orlova. In 2001, Trans Tec Services filed in the Newfoundland court for payment of bunker fuel supplied to the vessel.

Pyotr Osichansky, the ITF union representative in Vladivostok, told Fairplay: “The good news is that the ship has been arrested on behalf of the crew as well, so that the salaries of the crew are now protected.”

In Moscow, the federal Transport Ministry refuses to answer questions about the owners and debts of the vessel; the Russian Embassy in Ottawa is also refusing to respond. The Prosecutor General has requested a written fax of questions regarding the owners – and has not responded. According to Osichansky, the Russian government officials lack information and are also “indifferent” to the crew’s fate.

In St. John’s, an appeal has been made by a former executive of Canada Air for airline employees to donate free flight passes so as to enable the crew to fly home. The Ministry of Emergency Services in Moscow said its aircraft are available to “evacuate crews by air only from sinking ships.”

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