Cape Vincent, NY, Dec 28, 2010 — Twenty-two Chinese seamen are resting up in Montreal after a harrowing Christmas journey through the St. Lawrence Seaway. The crew aboard the German-owned Hermann Schoening became violently ill after phosphine gas leaked into the living and working spaces. The gas is used regularly as a fumigant to kill pests in the cargo hold. The freighter is carrying 19,000 tons of midwestern corn bound for Algeria.
The crew was treated at a hospital in Ontario. But the ship then continued on with windows open to air out the gas.
Don Metzger piloted the freighter from Lake Ontario through the St. Lawrence River to Massena. He's been a Seaway pilot for more than 30 years. He told David Sommerstein he's never seen anything like this happen before. Metzger says the crew was sick and cold, and unprepared for winter weather. Carolyn Osbourne of the Mariners House of Montreal says the crew spent yesterday recovering after being sickened by phosphine gas. She says they received a second hospital checkup, as well as warm coats, gloves, and Christmas gifts while in port. The ship was scheduled to resume its travels this morning.
An official with Transport Canada says the incident is under investigation. The shipowners could be fined if violations of the Canada Shipping Act are found. But the gas leak is so far being considered an anomaly.