(Note: a technical glitch re-sent this post on RSS feeds in March 2012. Please be aware this was published in May 2008 and is no longer current. However, issue of seafarer detention remains an issue)
Nobody’s wearing any t-shirts proclaiming ‘Free The Cosco Busan Six’, no craggy-jawed celebrity is taking up their cause at the UN, but, then, they’re not cute whales or seals, not noticeably gay, don’t appear to advocate political or cultural extremism, and aren’t being murdered in Dafur, and, anyway, only two US newspapers have mentioned them, no prime time soundbites. They fall beneath the liberal radar because they’re simply seafarers waiting to go home.
They, of course, are the six seafarers detained in San Franscico awaiting the pleasure of American courts. They are not charged with anything, they are being held as material witness’s in the trial of Cosco Busan pilot John Cota.
They did, at least, get mentioned by Howard Mintz in the San Jose Mercury and John Upton in the National Examiner, which appears to have been more than they got in the maritime industry press, in which they seem to be invisible.
True, they are living in a reasonable apartment, they have been allowed to visit the local Chinatown and museums, almost certainly under the watchful eye of the Immigration and Naturalisation Service or spooks from the Department of Homeland Security (As British House Of Commons Transport Committee report points out, seafarers are regarded as little more than terrorists in the US). They are getting a $50 a day meal allowance from the ship owner, which is far from excessive or unreasonable. As Howard Mintz points out, it isn’t exactly Gitmo.
If they had been charged with a crime and were awaiting trial, those would be pretty good conditions to be held in. But they are not. They are not being detained voluntarily, but under court order.
At the moment they are receiving their salaries from their company, which ends on 31st May. Cota’s trial has yet to be set. They’ve lost their jobs on the Cosco Busan and can’t find replacement employment because of their detention.
The US Attorney’s Office is willing to let them go home once they’ve given depositions, but it appears that can’t be done until June.
Yet another reason not to be a seafarer, or, at least, to keep clear of the US.