Ship owner wants to help Ike victims

October 31, 2008 4:10:14 AM PDT
The owner of a cruise ship says he's ready, willing and able to give shelter to hundreds left homeless by Hurricane Ike, but yet the ship remains empty. FEMA says a lot of rental housing is now coming online, most of that in the Houston area. In Orange County, though, some 18,000 people were referred for housing assistance and the ship that just left port in Galveston was being a way to help some of them. Now, it's sitting out in the Gulf of Mexico waiting.

It's a vintage cruise ship that normally sails between Florida and the Bahamas, but from the days after Ike hit until last week, it was a floating hotel for emergency contractors. The idea was to move the Empress to the port in Orange so that it could house some of the people who are now without housing in that part of the state.

The Orange County judge, the ship owner says, wants to use the Royal Empress as well and wants FEMA to pay a cut rate price, $48 per person.

A FEMA spokesperson says the paperwork the agency received doesn't fit the guideline for a formal request and it can't act until it receives one. So the Empress sailed out of Galveston Thursday to wait offshore in the Gulf, leaving its captain frustrated and its owner even more so.

"Waiting for the instructions is something strange for us," said Captain Matko Antisic.

"Out of all these years of being a superpower how all these years, we've been able to get things straight, why is the system so broken," said ship owner James Verrillo.

Verrillo says his ship is prepared to sit out in the Gulf for several more days until an answer comes from FEMA one way or the other.

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