Vessel Departs; He Asks Citizenship : Romanian Leaves Ship in Houston, Wants to Stay

United Press International

A Romanian seaman left his ship at the Port of Houston, telling Immigration and Naturalization Service officials he wants to apply for U.S. citizenship, authorities said Wednesday.

INS officials in Houston said the man was an engineer on the freighter Zalau, which left Houston Tuesday night. He was identified by a Houston television station as Paul Fririca, about 45.

The man, the second Romanian sailor to seek asylum in the United States within a week, was being questioned by federal authorities Wednesday night. He apparently knows little English but found someone at the port who spoke his language and told him how to contact authorities.

'Everything Was a Lie'

He told a reporter for KPRC-TV he wanted to stay in the United States "because everything there (in Romania) was a lie." The man said he has a wife and two children in Romania.

Greg Leo, spokesman for the INS in Washington, confirmed that a Romanian national had left his ship and applied for U.S. citizenship.

"This individual is from a ship that was in Houston but has since left," Leo said. "The matter has been reviewed by the Immigration Service and no determination in the matter has been made."

Leo said the Romanian left his vessel Tuesday night and reported to the INS Houston office Wednesday.

The State Department in Washington would not comment on the defection.

Paul O'Neill, INS district director for Houston, said the defection was not uncommon but because of problems encountered with the Miroslav Medvid incident in New Orleans last week, "the situation is sensitive."

Last Saturday, a Soviet ship left New Orleans after several days of negotiations between U.S. and Soviet officials over a Ukrainian seaman who jumped ship.

U.S. officials said that Medvid jumped off the grain freighter Marshal Konev into the Mississippi River Oct. 24 and was rescued by a U.S. border patrol boat.

Returned to His Ship

Medvid jumped ship again and swam to shore as he was being returned to his vessel following an interview with border patrol officers. Soviet officials returned him to the grain freighter.

Medvid was taken off the Marshal Konev and interviewed by State Department officials, who said the seaman expressed his wish to return to the Soviet Union.

Last week, Romanian merchant sailor Stefan Vernea, 38, walked into the Jacksonville, Fla., INS office and asked for political asylum. The INS district director in Miami granted him asylum the next day. Vernea began work Monday as a $4-an-hour mechanic in a Jacksonville metal recycling plant. Vernea, who speaks some English, has filled out papers requesting that his wife, Maria, be allowed to join him in the United States.

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