A cargo ship that has been stuck in the Delaware River since April because of needed repairs and owners who could not pay for them is poised to set sail next week.
The former Nikol H has a new name, Nicolina, as well as a new crew and new owners. A federal lawsuit that had kept the vessel here has been settled.
To celebrate, the Seamen's Church Institute, which regularly greets seafarers in ports along the Delaware, provided lunch and a festive farewell Wednesday for the 20 new Filipino crew members.
Because their visas had expired, the original crew members could not leave the ship over the summer for recreation and shopping. As their contracts expired, members of the former crew received U.S. Customs "paroles" to go home. The rest left when the new owners took over.
The new crew has been able to leave the ship and has seen a basketball game at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Nicolina, registered in the Philippines, has been retrofitted with new parts.
"We're just waiting to finish up the last generator," said Capt. Eric Pabelico, 49, who is from Manila. "If all goes well, we can sail on Wednesday."
"They have been working diligently to bring it up to class," said Pastor Bill Rex, chaplain of the Seamen's Church. "We're celebrating the fact that the ship has gone from the dust and is rising up like a phoenix to take on a new life under new owners."
The new captain and crew arrived last month, after Keeper Maritime Co. of Manila and Orient Shipping Rotterdam B.V., Netherlands, acquired the former Nikol H on Oct. 22.
"The Coast Guard will do an inspection to satisfy themselves that the repairs have been done properly," said Philadelphia maritime lawyer Alfred Kuffler. "If that's the case, off she goes."
The saga began April 12, when the Nikol H, owned by an operating company in Piraeus, Greece, discharged 13,521 tons of cocoa beans at Pier 84 in South Philadelphia.
The Coast Guard, which regularly inspects arriving ships, cited the Nikol H for operational deficiencies and ordered the vessel not to sail until repairs were made.
In May, Dependable Distribution Services, the operator at Pier 84, sued in federal court, seeking to "arrest" the ship from leaving for failure to pay nearly $300,000 in wharfage, stevedoring, and other fees for the six weeks it had been docked for repairs.
Other suppliers, the ship agent, and a time-charter firm joined the lawsuit, saying they also were owed money for the time the Nikol H was here and received fuel and other "necessities."
The owner and operator at that time, Derna Carriers S.A., claimed not to have the money to pay.
Last month, all the claims were settled.
"That left Orient Shipping's claims. Those eventually were settled because Orient bought the ship," said Kuffler, who represented Orient.
While the court drama played out, the Nikol was anchored in the Delaware. In August, the ship moved to near the Cruise Terminal at the Navy Yard.
Seamen's Church staff visits more than 1,500 ships a year - each cargo ship that docks - and 33 marine terminals on the Pennsylvania and New Jersey sides of the river.
Its mission is to offer counseling to foreign sailors, help with immigration issues, and intervene in problems such as pay disputes. They also escort sailors off the ships for a few hours of R&R.
Though detaining ships in U.S. ports happens frequently, "arresting" a ship for 71/2 months "mercifully is atypical," Kuffler said. "The owner just ran out of money."