The MV Lyubov Orlova, with 49 Russian and two Ukrainian crew members on board but no passengers, "was seized following a suit by a haulage contractor over a $251,000 debt," Pyotr Osichansky of the International Transport Workers Federation told the Russian Information Agency Novosti Thursday.
Canadian officials placed the ship, used during the summer for adventure tourism trips to northern Labrador, under arrest when it arrived at St. John's, Newfoundland, and Labrador five days ago, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. said.
Crew members told CBC News they hadn't been paid for five months.
"I am a little angry because I have a credit on my house and most of the crew have credits on houses in our country," Russian Anton Fyederovski, the ship's third mate, told CBC News. "There will be a lot of trouble with banks at home, yes."
Russian Ambassador to Canada Georgy Mamedov -- one of Russia's foremost authorities on Canada and the United States, known for smoothing over the thorniest disputes -- is working to secure the crew members' release.
"The fear is that if the debt is not paid off, the ship will be auctioned off," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko told the Voice of Russia.
The detained ship bears the name of a late Soviet movie star of the 1930s and 1940s.