A misunderstanding that led to a two-week detention of a U.S.-flag vessel in the port of Maracaibo, Venezuela, has been resolved safely and successfully. As a spokesperson for the MTD –affiliated Seafarers International Union (SIU), which represents the unlicensed members of the crew, and the American Maritime Officers (AMO), which represents the officers, noted, “The Ocean Atlas is sailing again and we are grateful that the crew is underway.”
The incident was sparked when erroneous information was sent to Venezuelan officials from Columbia suggesting that the vessel was carrying illegal narcotics. A search of the vessel revealed that none were aboard. However, the ship did contain several firearms in a safe that were declared before the vessel’s arrival. (Keeping such weapons aboard merchant vessels has become commonplace in recent years as a result of a growing epidemic of pirate attacks.) Once that paperwork misunderstanding was cleared, Venezuelan authorities dropped all charges and allowed the crew of 15 to sail on September 14.
The unions waged a determined effort to ensure that the matter was resolved amicably. Representatives from the SIU and AMO stayed in constant contact with the crew and authorities. Noting the source of the problem – the erroneous information that had been conveyed to the Venezuelan authorities – the unions stressed, “We thank the Venezuelan government for its professionalism and for treating the American mariners fairly and respectfully. Notwithstanding the local delays in Maracaibo, the central Venezuelan government officials at the highest levels in Caracas ably assisted throughout the process and were instrumental in securing the vessel’s ultimate release.”
Additionally, the unions extended “sincere thanks to everyone who helped bring this saga to a successful conclusion. Our appreciation goes to the U.S. State Department, the International Transport Workers’ Federation, former U.S. Congressman William Delahunt, Crowley Maritime, Intermarine, the AFL-CIO, the U.S. Consulate in Maracaibo, the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C., the Apostleship of the Sea, the Ocean Atlas seafarers and their families. We especially appreciate the consistently upbeat attitude maintained by the crew, and we are humbled by their public acknowledgment of our efforts throughout the ordeal.”