Stranded and abandoned at sea for six months, their ship swinging at anchor through storms in Portland Bay, baking beneath a summer sun and often rolling on vicious swells, the little crew had no more than a single pleasure each day.

The Portland Missions to Seafarers regularly sent supplies of phone cards out to the ship so the men could contact their families in the Philippines.

The remaining 16 crew members of the Yangtze Fortune finally left the ship by charter boat on Wednesday morning.Credit:Joe O’Connor/Game On Charters

“Boredom had us, but we could call our families,” said Captain Roger Molinos as he stepped ashore at Portland in south-west Victoria, after a saga lasting more than six months.

“Every night I could talk to my wife and my three children. They could see me and I could see them by picture-phone. The Mission gave us this blessing.”

The Liberian-flagged ship, Yangtze Fortune, has been anchored off the coast of Portland since September last year when it was refused permission to load more than 5000 cattle bound for China after a crack was discovered in its hull. Rather than pay for repairs, the Chinese company abandoned the ship and its crew.

Molinos said the crew members had spent their days worrying about the welfare of their loved ones.

The crew reaching the shore of Portland after months anchored at sea.Credit:Nicole Cleary

They had not been paid for months and were unable to send desperately needed money back home.

“The families of my crew back in the Philippines had to struggle to pay rent, to buy food, to supply school lunches for the children. For everything,” Molinos said.

In December, Molinos was offered the chance to leave the ship and fly home to the Philippines, but he refused.

“My concern was for my crew,” he said. “I decided to stay on board with them until they could get their salaries paid.”

The crew members were driven to Melbourne Airport where they flew home to the Philippines. Credit:Nicole Cleary

Shortly after dawn on Wednesday, Molinos and his remaining crew of 16 clambered down from the Yangtze Fortune on a rope ladder to a charter boat that took them to shore at Portland.

The skipper of their ride to freedom, Joe O’Conner from Game On Charters, said the seafarers were enormously happy knowing that, finally, they were going home.

They were taken by bus from Portland to Melbourne Airport.

Nineteen other crew members had been permitted to leave the ship in January and were repatriated to the Philippines.

The Yangtze Fortune off the coast of Portland with Lawrence Rocks in the background.Credit:Allen McCauley

But 16 were required to stay on board under Australian law to keep the vessel “operational”.

Their outstanding salary payments will finally be met following the sale last week of the Yangtze Fortune for about $8 million.

The Federal Court of Australia ordered that the ship be sold to the highest bidder after finding the Chinese owners had abandoned the vessel. The crew’s salaries will be given priority by the court-appointed Admiralty Marshal before millions of dollars of other debts can be distributed from the sale.

The new owner, another China-based shipping company, flew a replacement crew to Australia this week. The Chinese seafarers boarded the ship before the Filipinos disembarked.

The crew that was allowed to disembark from the Yangtze Fortune in January.Credit:Leesa Cook/Portland Observer

Molinos said he expected the vessel would now be sailed to a Chinese shipyard for repairs.

He said he was considering applying to become captain once the ship was seaworthy again.

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