(This blog is about my experiences working and living aboard a 220’ treasure hunting ship the M/V Sea Hunter)
My first impression of Haiti, as I was standing on the deck of the Sea Hunter, about ½ miles from shore, was that it seemed so small. Close to the water’s edge, it looked like a ring of black surrounded the shoreline. As you looked up into the mountainside there was a fog hovering above the land. It looked like most of the homes were built into the mountains and very close together. The landscape was far from lush. As I looked out onto the land, I thought about how terrified the people of Haiti must have felt when the earthquake struck on that January day in 2010. My heart especially went out for the children; I couldn’t imagine what they were feeling. I wanted to wrap my arms around them and comfort each and every one of them.
I vowed to keep this thought strong in my mind as we prepared to unload the 200 tons of donated supplies. We had all heard stories from Greg Brooks, Gary Esper and Brian Ryder. They had all been to Haiti a few times in the past and experienced firsthand how things were done there. They explained that what we knew about how things were done in the United States didn’t necessarily mean that was how it was done in Haiti. As a matter of fact, it was usually quite the opposite.
Greg first visited Haiti in the early 80’s. After finding a silver bar while scuba diving, his interest in treasure hunting began. He visited Haiti again a number of times over the next decade. With the help of local Haitians he had befriended, he met with the Prime Minister to request permission to locate and salvage shipwrecks off the coast. He was eventually granted approval by Prosper Avril, who was the leader of Haiti in early 1992. An agreement was made that whatever was salvaged would be shared with the country of Haiti. This process took a lot of time and back and forth discussions. Within months of receiving the go ahead, the Haitian government was overturned and a new Prime Minister, Marc Bazin was in power. He rescinded on the deal and did not honor any previous agreements. It was back to square one.
On one of his previous dive trips to Haiti, Greg was actually taken by gunpoint by local rebels who demanded money to let him go. Though these crazy and scary things happened, he didn’t allow it to sway his feelings about the Haitian people as a whole. He had the opportunity to get to know many locals on his travels there. He found the majority of them to be kind and very generous, even offering to share with him what little food they had. He especially enjoyed the innocence of the children. This is why he didn’t hesitate when the news of the earthquake hit. He had a special place in his heart for them and would do whatever it took to help.
Though I knew the past stories and the struggle it took to get things done, I figured the country was in a place of devastation and would welcome us with open arms. We had supplies that were desperately needed so the sooner we got them in the hands of the people, the better off everyone would be. However, this would not be the case. I had the unfortunate opportunity to witness the unjust and cruelty of man.
When we first arrived in Miragoane, we received our first visitor, Felix Vital. He was a local Haitian who had worked with Greg in the past and would be our interpreter while we were there. Most Haitians speak Creole and some broken English. Felix was a strong and handsome young man with a huge smile. He was full of hugs for Greg, Gary and Brian who he already knew from previous trips. He brought along his girlfriend who I believe was a bit overwhelmed with meeting so many new people . They ended up staying on the Sea Hunter the entire time we were in Haiti.
As we sat anchored in the harbor of Miragoane, we awaited news that would allow us to start unloading. Rev. Marc Bosivert, from the Hope Village orphanage was working on getting us the approval to offload. His assistant had been in Port-au-Prince for a week trying to get approval from the director of customs, however, he was supposedly ill and in the hospital. There was no one else he could speak to. This was frustrating to hear and hard to understand.
Saturday morning, Greg, Gary, Felix and Bill went ashore to see if they could meet with a local official and speed up the process. When they reached the dock they noticed several armed guards watching over the unloading of a commercial vessel that had sailed in about the same time as we had. They were surrounded by desperate Haitian men begging for work. Felix explained why we were there and asked who else we could speak with. He was informed there was no one else; they would have to wait for the US customs official to get out of the hospital. This upset Greg as he looked over at ship being unloaded, knowing it held for profit goods. Here we were with free food and supplies and we were getting the run around. They decided to call the Port Captain to try and get his permission. They were told that he was at the bank, so they got a ride into the town of Miragoane with hopes of speaking with him face to face. Felix made numerous calls over the next two hours and kept getting the same response, and then finally, no one would answer his call. It was a dead end. It was decided to head back to the Sea Hunter. I absolutely couldn’t believe it when Greg told us the news. It was truly unbelievable that there was not one person who could give us the okay to start unloading. As much as I didn’t want to believe it, I was starting to see what others had said,that the Haitian government doesn’t have the welfare of its people at heart. We were down but we weren’t going to give up!