(This blog is about my experiences working and living aboard a 220’ treasure hunting ship, the M/V Sea Hunter)
Finally, it seemed everything was falling in place and the unloading would begin in the morning. It had been about 30 days since leaving Maine and the Sea Hunter was still loaded with donated aid. All that was needed was for the customs inspector to board the ship, check it out and give the final approval. I guess one more night couldn’t hurt.
I’m not sure if any of us slept to much that night. The anticipation of how it was all going to work was in the back of our minds. We were docked about ½ mile off shore of Les Cayes. The plan was to manually lift each box onto smaller vessels that would take them to shore. With over 200 tons of aid, I figured this would take forever, but it was all we had to work with. At least it was something.
Everyone was up early and ready to go the next morning. I had made a hearty breakfast in anticipation of a long and hot day unloading in the Haitian sun. Our walk in cooler was loaded with bottled water.
We were told the day before, that the customs official would be at our ship by 7:00 am to do the inspection. It was now past 8 am and not a word. Could this really be happening? Greg was pacing back and forth on the deck and with each step I could sense his anger mounting. By 9 am it was decided that Greg, Gary, Felix and Bill would take Mini Me ashore to see what was causing the delay. They hoped to be back within a few hours but I had my reservations. I had seen already how a brief meeting could sometimes consume an entire day.
While they were gone we kept busy cleaning and maintaining the ship. Some of us decided to take a swim off the back deck. The water was beautiful and crystal clear. It was a nice diversion and much needed.
It was a little after noon when we saw Mini Me heading back towards the ship. I prayed they would have good news to report, however when they were close enough for us to make out their faces, I didn’t see happy ones, just frustration. As we helped them aboard, Greg informed us that once again they got the round a round. They were told that the Sea Hunter was too far away and needed to be at the dock. Capt. Esper explained once again how impossible that would be due to the debris on the ocean floor; that we were as close to shore without putting the Sea Hunter in danger of being damaged. They were then told that a decision would be made later that day.
The rest of the day and night went by and not a word. The next morning the same group again got into Mini Me and headed to shore. Greg was determined to get an answer. What he got when he arrived at the delegates office was the same old run around. This time they gave two excuses. One was that President Preval would be visiting Les Cayes, and therefore they needed all available security. The second excuse was again, the old manifest. The list of supplies we had were on a number of pages and they required it all be combined on one formal page. As you can imagine, this was beyond frustrating.
Once all were back on the Sea Hunter, Felix tried making more calls to numerous officials, all to no avail. By early afternoon I thought Greg was going to literally explode. He, along with the rest of the crew had had enough. He instructed Felix to inform each person we had dealt with to date, that if we didn’t get approval and start unloading by 4pm, the M/V Sea Hunter and all its aid was heading back to the United States. When I heard this my heart sank. We couldn’t have come this close to not be able to deliver. It made no sense to me.
Once the officials received Felix’s statement, things changed rapidly. He was informed that a group of delegates would be coming to the ship to speak with Greg. We were optimistically hopeful, as the threat seemed to be working. By late afternoon a boatload of local delegates ascended on the Sea Hunter. They came along with local media. Once aboard, the camera were rolling as they introduced themselves to Greg and the crew. As they all piled into the galley to begin the discussions, I put on a pot of coffee. As I watched them from across the room it seemed surreal. It was like they were trying to impress the camera and not really speak about the issue. However, after discussing (through interpreters) the situation, the customs official briefly walked around the ship and inspected the cargo. When he was done, he looked into the camera and said to Greg, “Yes, no problem, you can off load now”. Just like that, it was approved.
Smiles and handshakes were traded among the group. It was set to begin right after lunch. In the meantime we were introduced to a group of men who were working for the (UNPOL) United Nations Police. They would be patrolling in two separate boats around our ship all while the unloading took place. They seemed nice enough though they carried many guns. The man in charge was from Wisconsin and very personable. The others were from Uruguay and didn’t speak any English. I really thought it was unnecessary. What did we need protection from? We were there to help and give away supplies that were much needed. (Little did I know, I would soon find out why we needed protection.)