(This blog is about my experiences working and living aboard a 220’ treasure hunting ship, the M/V Sea Hunter)
As I lay in my bunk that night we left Miragoane and sailed toward Les Cayes, I couldn’t help but wonder why this was happening. It truly made no sense to me. Why in the world wouldn’t a country who had just experienced a major earthquake and who was extremely poor to begin with, graciously accept help? Here we were, laden with food, water, clothing, tents, medical supplies, toys and so much more, and it was an act of congress to get officials to allow us to unload it. I asked God to bring the right people into place; someone who would see how this could help their own people.
We weren’t able to get the M/V Sea Hunter near the dock in Les Cayes as there were shipwrecks and debris surrounding the area, so we anchored off the village of IIe a Vache. Since we couldn’t get to the dock, the plan was to have the locals load the aid onto their small boats and bring it to shore. A lot of it was going to Hope Village (an orphanage run by Father Marc Bosivert), some to the city of Ile a Vache and some going to Port au Prince. This would take a bit longer but it was all we had to work with.
Early that morning, Greg, Gary (captain), Felix (interpreter) and Bill (correspondent) loaded into Mini Me and headed to shore. They were meeting Father Marc at the dock and together they would meet with the local officials. As I made breakfast for the crew, I continued to send out positive vibes that all would go well and we would begin offloading that day.
Though it was barely 8 am, the temperature was nearing 80 degrees. As they found a place to rest in the shade, both Felix and Father Marc’s assistant started making calls to the local officials. Call after call was made and four long hours later Felix got a meeting set up with the local delegate. Meanwhile, Father Marc’s assistant brought by a local gentleman that was a city administrator and a shipping agent. He explained that he would work on behalf of the Sea Hunter and be able to get the approval from the local delegates to begin unloading. Unfortunately, true to Haitian form, he would do this for a price of $1000, but finally settled for $600 instead.
The group of eight rode into town and headed towards the delegates office. Thinking, or should I say hoping, it would be a short meeting, they all crammed into plastic chairs with hope in their hearts. Instead, they were scolded by the delegate (in Creole), he was telling them they can’t just show up, they should of sent a letter requesting a meeting and that he is a busy man. Thankfully, Father Marc, having lived and dealt with many officials defused the situation. He apologized and told the delegate that they didn’t want to bother him, that it was humanitarian aid and it was going to both the village of Les Cayes as well as the orphanage. This seemed to calm him down and the delegate quickly changed his tune and stated he would approve the unloading. This was wonderful news to the group and smiles were all around.
As the group got up to leave and head back to the ship, the delegate quickly picked up the phone and called the mayor of Les Cayes and a reporter from Television National Haiti. He instructed them to come to his office immediately. When they arrived, the delegate started speaking quickly in Creole as he motioned to the crew. Not able to understand their language, Greg asked Felix and Father Marc what was being said. Father Marc quietly told him that the delegate was instructing the major and the reporter to be at the dock early the next morning. That many small boats would be coming in loaded with supplies. He was instructing them on how he wanted the story to be told over the media. Father Marc explained to Greg and the group that this was normal in Haiti. That each one of them; the delegate, the shipping agent and the mayor would all take credit for bringing this aid to the people of Haiti. It was unbelievable.
Thinking all was settled they proceeded to leave, only to be told by the delegate that they now had to meet with the customs officials at the dock. So again, they all crowded into a couple cars and headed back towards the dock. In true Haitian form, the custom officials were not present when they arrived. There was however, a large group of locals. They were told the custom officials went to lunch and would be back in an hour. Again, they found shelter under a shaded tree and waited.
When they arrived the officials explained to Greg that he needed to bring the ship onto the dock so they could inspect it before offloading began. Captain Gary Esper explained to them that it was too shallow near the dock. That with all the coral and old shipwrecks he would hit bottom and so it was impossible to do. After much discussion they agreed on moving the ship as close to shore as possible, and the next morning they would come out to the ship and personally inspect it. If all went well, they would allow the offloading to begin immediately.
With that being said, Greg and Father Marc shook hands and headed their separate ways. It had been a long hot day with much negotiating. Finally it seemed everything was working and tomorrow would be the day!