CASA DEL MARINO – SEAFARER’S HOUSE
Roel Ucang went to work at sea so that he and his wife could build a home of their own instead of sharing the house of his in-laws. After a long year of hard work, he had $7,000 of sach savings to transfer back home in the Philipines. On April 6, 1999, while his ship was docked in Miami, Roel went into town where he found a money remittance agent promising a good exchange rate to send his money home. Weeks passed and then months, and no sign of the missing cash.
I met Roel when his ship called at Port Everglades Autumn, 1999. As he shared his frustration and fears, his eyes filled with tears. The Miami businessman had moved, and Roel didn’t know how to find him. I knew the man of whom Roel spoke; his restaurant had been popular among Filipino seafarers. But when I promised to help, I had no idea how difficult it would be.
After my own appeals proved unsuccessful, I recruited help from the ITF’s Miami Inspector who also knew the businessman. Months went by as we struggled to communicate and then waited for results that failed to materialize. Meanwhile, Roel would call me every few weeks, from one port or another. It hurt me to hear the growing desperation in his voice.
I tried to file a complaint at the State Attorney’s office in Miami but the required that Roel visit their office to make a deposition. Roel’s ship was no longer calling at Miami and even his rare visits to Port Everglades were too short for visiting Miami. My contact in the prosecutor’s office shared with me that tourist victimized by crime often face the same obstacles as Roel.
Finally, I turned to Charles Lipcon, a Miami attorney who often represents seafarers and is a strong supporter of Seafarer’s House. He agreed to handle Roel’s case pro bono, and filed a lawsuit on Roel’s behalf this past winter. A check for the missing money–plus interest–arrived at Mr. Lipcon’s office one month later.
Now we had to find Roel. His vessel’s agent here in Port Everglades sent Roel’s captain a telex asking Roel to call me. I was out the first time he called, and then he reached me at home one evening a week later when his ship docked in New Orleans. As I shared the good news, this normally soft-spoken man became very excited. I am happy, too, as I think of the home he wants to build with his wife.
I’m also glad to share in a ministry that brings hope to those who sometimes lose it. We have to tangibly witness God’s expoitation. If we call ourselves people of God and believe that God hates injustice, then we have to put our faith into action when someone like Roel is treated unfairly. I thank God for those who sponsor me to do that, including Roel who recently donated $100 to Seafarers’ House!