Stranded sailors leave Scotland as Ross County fans

EIGHT seamen left stranded at a Scottish port for almost five months over winter have finally sailed home.
Picture: Alan WatsonPicture: Alan Watson
Picture: Alan Watson

The crew of the cargo ship MV Nicola – seven Ukrainians and one Lithuanian – were abandoned in Invergordon, Ross-shire, when the owners of the vessel got into financial difficulty.

They had ended up at the harbour when their boat, transporting coal from Poland to Ireland, broke down in the Pentland Firth.

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The boat was initially towed to Scrabster in Caithness before being transferred to Invergordon for repairs, then the owners went bust, leaving the crew without any pay.

Since then, the local community in Invergordon rallied around the sailors, looking after them when they heard of their plight.

They threw them a Christmas party and even sent them to home matches of Scottish Premiership side Ross County in Dingwall – with the club providing hats and scarves.

The eight have now been able to return home following the acquisition of the vessel’s owners by a Dutch shipping company.

The crew were offered help by the Seafarers’ Centre at the Church of Scotland in the town, which they regularly attended.

Rosskeen Church also got involved and the men were invited to their annual Christmas dinner in Alness for people who would be on their own during the festive celebrations.

Local residents gave them odd jobs for extra cash, while Highland charity Blythswood Care donated money to the men’s families back home.

Port chaplain Drew Anderson said: “The company they were with abandoned them here. We looked after them at the centre.

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“They’ve come to see us in the centre most nights over these past 19 weeks – we’ve become firm friends.

“They came and used the internet to they could keep in touch with their families back home.”

One of the crew was stranded while his wife gave birth to their first child.

Mr Anderson added: “We’ve taken them to all of Ross Country’s home matches since they’ve been here. County gave us match tickets and hats and scarves for them all. They are now staunch Ross County supporters. It’s been difficult for them being so far from home and in a foreign country, and sometimes short of money.

“They are really looking forward to seeing their wives and children. We will miss them, they are lovely folk. Everyone in Invergordon has more or less come to know them over the time they have been here.”

Alexander Birulin, the Lithuanian chief officer, said before his departure this week: “The people of Invergordon have been very kind to us. They greeted us every time we walked down the street. But we are very happy to be going home.”

Bob Buskie, chief executive officer for the Port of Cromarty Firth, said: “We are delighted that the crew of the Nicola have now been repatriated and are on their way home. The Seafarers’ Centre and the Invergordon community have done an outstanding job in helping to care for the men.”