The 64-year-old ship captain and his crew, whose vessel has been stranded in the Netherlands for months due to a financial obligation gone awry between his employer and a local bank.
It all started July 25 when a tugboat, the Alois, based in Orange, Texas, had been towing ship hulls from Romania, said Salem, who was days from retirement.
Everything seemed fine until the vessel was in the Dutch port of Harlingen and an embargo was put on the ship by CommunityBank of Texas, he said. Shortly after the Alois was embargoed, another tugboat the company owns, the Gale Force, was also marshaled and placed in the bank’s custody.
“There is a loan the owner could not pay for, so they put an embargo on us or seized the boat by court claim,” Salem told The Enterprise by telephone from Harlingen. “We cannot leave until this problem is solved.”
Pat Parsons, president of CommunityBank, declined to be interviewed by The Enterprise.
John Bergene, who owns both ships, told The Enterprise that he was surprised by what CommunityBank did.
Bergene, who owned EJ Ventures in Nederland, said “the long and short” of the story is three years ago his company did a job and was not paid for it. Bergene said the company was stiffed for a little more than $750,000.
He claimed to have been working with the bank during the last three years and had been making progress to get out of debt.
Salem said he spends most days sitting on the docks and feeding the birds around him.
But it has not stopped him from making friends in the village, as the city council and the harbor master have offered to put the sailors in hotel rooms for free, he said.
The city council and harbor master even offered to pay for fuel so the boat’s generators can continue to run.
Salem also said that multiple companies in the area have come together and told the crew they would pay for their flights home to see their families.
“That’s what I wonder. How come there is a big number of good people concentrated in a small town like Harlingen, even the working families that cannot afford much?” he said. “I see a small family come by, and they have coffee and homemade cake with you. Many of them will take their groceries home and then come by the ship and give us food.
“I have tried asking them their names, and they say, ‘We are brothers, and do not worry about our names. We are here to help you.'”
Read the rest of this story in the Beaumont Enterprise