Protracted port calls

Two other big commercial vessels that had lengthy stays while in Charleston:

2007: Lawsuits kept the freighter Edco stranded in waters near Charleston, and visa requirements prevented the 29-man Egyptian crew from setting foot on land beginning in late June 2007. The empty 635-foot, bulk-cargo ship was cleared to leave on Oct. 13, 2007.

1992-94: The Kapetan Martinovic, a Yugoslavian freighter, was anchored in Charleston Harbor for about 18 months with a crew of 13 Serbs, Croats and Montenegrins. The orange-and-black ship was 1 of 7 detained when the U.S. government froze $450 million in former Yugoslav assets. It became a floating landmark off The Battery during its stay.

It isn’t the type of a port visit that the crew of the CT Longford envisioned when the tanker left Florida early last month.

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An engine malfunction forced to the ship to divert to a North Charleston repair business on the former Navy base, where the Turkish captain and 15 merchant seamen from India have been stuck since about Aug. 9.

Without U.S. visas, they aren’t allowed on dry land.

Mark Palasek of the Charleston Port and Seafarers’ Society, which assists visiting merchant mariners with various needs, said the local charity was notified this week about the predicament. The nonprofit group is now stepping in to help the crew anyway it can, he said Wednesday.

“It’s kind of strange situation for the vessel,” added Gary Santos, a longtime local ship agent who’s on the Seafarers’ Society board of directors.

It isn’t unusual that foreign seamen can’t leave a disabled ship over immigration paperwork. That’s a fairly common occurrence at the port, Santos said,

What makes this situation unique is the amount of down time the CT Langford crew members will have to spend in Charleston without ever stepping ashore.

“I’m hearing it could be another month,” said Santos, who has visited the broken-down ship.

The 384-foot-long tanker is in dry-dock at Detyens Shipyard, which referred questions to Santos. A parts order is the main holdup.

“This ship is going to be here a little bit longer than most other ships,” Santos said.

The Seafarers’ Society already has delivered food to the Malta-flagged vessel, he said. It’s also working to provide wireless Internet access to the tanker so that the crew members can contact their families, either by email or via an online phone service such as Skype.

“We take donations, no doubt about it,” he said.

As for the CT Langford crew, they have access to TV and books. Santos said they’re doing as well as can be expected for 16 men in a confined space with nothing but time on their hands.

“They’re merchant seamen,” he said. “They want to be at sea working. It’s enough to drive anybody nuts out there on a ship, and there’s only so much they can do.”

Contact John McDermott at 937-5572