LEGAL ISSUE ANCHORS 13 FOREIGNERS TO ROLL-ON VESSEL AT FLORIDA PORT

LEGAL ISSUE ANCHORS 13 FOREIGNERS TO ROLL-ON VESSEL AT FLORIDA PORT

Aboard a cavernous ship at Port Everglades, the unlucky crew of 13 bides time swatting mosquitoes and watching old movies. There's no real work to do aboard the Ro-Ro Runner.

But the crewmen - nine Russian, four Vietnamese - are trapped by circumstance and a federal lawsuit that literally imprisons most of them inside the ship.The Panamanian shipowner and manager allegedly owe a trio of creditors more than $170,000. Under federal admiralty law, creditors can have the U.S. Marshals Service seize a boat at port until the bills are paid or the vessel is sold.

That happened April 21 at Port Everglades, as the Ro-Ro arrived from the Dominican Republic toting cars and cargo.

Since then, the crew has sweltered under the South Florida sun without air conditioning and prayed for the day they can rejoin their families. Just two have visas that permit them to walk ashore. The other 11 have not left the ship in five months. All say they haven't been paid in months.

"It's like a prison," Konstantin Shkurin, the vessel's chief officer, said inside the 427-foot Ro-Ro Runner. "We have no money. We can't send money to our families. We can't do anything."

With the help of a pro bono lawyer in Coral Gables and the nonprofit Mission Casa Del Marino Seafarer's House at Port Everglades, the crew has a ray of hope. Lawyer Charles Philip Moure intends to file court papers before Chief U.S. District Judge Norman Roettger seeking more than $150,000 in back pay and an additional $90,000 in fines.

The case found its way into Fort Lauderdale federal court in March, when an oil company filed suit against shipowner Royal Alliance, ship manager Adriatic Tankers Shipping Co. and the vessel, claiming it was owed $42,000. In April, the ship's agent in Panama joined suit, seeking $92,000. Then a shipping company joined, seeking $42,000. This month, crewmembers added their names to the list of creditors.

They hope Oct. 3 will be their lucky day. That's when the Ro-Ro Runner - all 3,945 gross tons of - will be sold by the U.S. marshal to the highest and best bidder at auction. Two days later, Mr. Roettger will hold a court hearing to assess the crew's claims. Mr. Moure says the first cash will cover the costs to dock and operate the ship at Port Everglades the last five months. He said the workers are next in line. Then, the creditors.