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Baltimore Bridge Collapse

How crews on cargo ships stranded in Baltimore are working to maintain good “seafarer culture”

Stephanie Hughes Apr 5, 2024
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Captain Prachya Prengsieng stands aboard the Phatra Naree, a cargo ship with a crew from Thailand. It’s docked right next to the collapsed Key Bridge, and can’t leave the Port of Baltimore. Stephanie Hughes/Marketplace
Baltimore Bridge Collapse

How crews on cargo ships stranded in Baltimore are working to maintain good “seafarer culture”

Stephanie Hughes Apr 5, 2024
Heard on:
Captain Prachya Prengsieng stands aboard the Phatra Naree, a cargo ship with a crew from Thailand. It’s docked right next to the collapsed Key Bridge, and can’t leave the Port of Baltimore. Stephanie Hughes/Marketplace
HTML EMBED:
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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced on Thursday that a permanent navigation channel to the Port of Baltimore could be re-opened by the end of May. This comes as divers are still working to assess and clear the wreckage from the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

For the time being, there are eight cargo ships stuck in the port, including the Dali, which hit the bridge. The crews on those ships are used to being docked for only a day or so. Now, they’re looking at weeks in one spot. 

Earlier today on “Marketplace Morning Report” we spoke to the port chaplain Joshua Messick who’s working to make the unexpected stay as pleasant as possible for the 159 stranded crew workers, all of whom come from outside the U.S — countries like Romania, China, the Philippines. About half have to stay on their ships all the time because they lack the proper visas to come ashore, according to Messick.

The view of the collapsed Key Bridge from the deck of the Phatra Naree, which is docked in the Port of Baltimore. (Stephanie Hughes/Marketplace)

One cargo ship, the Phatra Naree, delivered a shipment of aluminum here and is docked basically right next to the collapsed Key Bridge.

The ship has a Thai crew; all have visas that allow them to go ashore. Captain Prachya Prengsieng said their next stop was meant to be a port in Pennsylvania.

“But now, everything’s canceled,” he said.

All these crew members are still getting paid, even if they’re not moving anything. 

Prengsieng gave a brief tour of the living quarters. The hallways are narrow and most of the space on the ship is reserved for cargo — not people.

In the galley, the next meal is already cooked: chicken curry. About eight crew members will miss lunch, though, because Messick, the port chaplain, is taking them shopping. 

Eight crew members from the cargo ship the Phatra Naree are in van, going ashore for a shopping trip. (Stephanie Hughes/Marketplace)

In the van, they talk about the snacks they plan to buy: Cheetos, Doritos and beer make the list. It’s chief engineer Pisit Thammakanjanawilai’s birthday next week, and he says they plan to throw a party on Monday.

Other times, they can watch movies, try to go online. Exercise is also an option — they have a gym on board. As for work, the crew is focused on maintenance and making sure nothing’s degrading while the ship’s sitting idle. 

Through all this, they try to keep what they call a good “seafarer culture.”

“We say hello every day, for everybody. First time of day we meet,” Thammakanjanawilai said.

“We are a family,” another crew member added.

There’s a sign on board the Phatra Naree that says “guide us on the correct path.” The captain says it’s meant to keep all of them motivated — something they’ll need to get through the weeks ahead. 

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