(This blog is about my experiences working and living aboard a 220’ treasure hunting ship, the M/V Sea Hunter)
With the final approval to start unloading our 200 tons of aid, we quickly came up with a plan. Felix (our Haitian interpreter) solicited a few other Haitians to help carry boxes and load onto the smaller vessels that would take them to shore. To identify who they were, we spray painted SSR on a bunch of tee shirts. When each helper put a shirt on, you could see they took their position seriously.
Once the offloading began, it was a sea of small boats surrounding the Sea Hunter. They were lined up side by side, some seven or eight boats deep. Most showed up before sunrise and waited. By noon the temperatures had reached about 80 degrees and the noise level was high. The Haitians in their boats were screaming up to us or to one another. Our crew was also hollering orders to the helpers on board. The energy level was high and frantic at times. Throughout the day I would go to my room to just be still.
There was some local security aboard that was sent to oversee the offloading. As I watched the goings on from the fossil deck I had an unobstructed view of the entire process. Most of the security guards were not paying attention to what was going on, but instead, was sitting in a shaded area and going through boxes. They were stuffing things inside their own duffel bags or back packs. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I pointed it out to the other crew members and they too were amazed. However, Dan Kidd, (a volunteer) was disgusted and took it a step further. He went up to a couple of them and started yelling, saying how pathetic they were to steal from their own people. It didn’t seem to faze them a bit as they continued it throughout the day.
As each small boat was loaded with boxes and cases of bottled water they would head towards shore and another boat would take its place. I wondered how long this would take as their boats really didn’t carry a lot of supplies. The United Nations Police boats stayed on the outside perimeter and circled the Sea Hunter throughout the day. For a while, things seemed to be going smoothly.
As I panned across the sea of boats, a couple of them caught my eye. The boats with younger and stronger Haitians aboard were getting the supplies, but some boats seemed to be lost in the crowd. Aboard these boats were frail older men who didn’t have a chance against the others. I caught the eye of one older man and motioned for him to take his boat to the starboard side of the ship. As he rowed to where I pointed, I ran inside and grabbed a few of our makeshift care packages. These were filled with beans, rice, flour, sugar and water. When I looked around and saw that there was no one else there, I dropped the packages into his boat. He smiled up at me and paddled off. Within a few minutes, I noticed a couple more boats heading toward the starboard side. I continued tossing care packages to each one of them. Out of nowhere, a Haitian guard came towards me speaking in broken English and shaking his finger. All I understand was no, no, no, you cannot do that. He looked down to the older men in their boats and shooed them away. I quickly recognized him as one of the guards that had been stuffing his own bags full of supplies. I looked him right in the eye and said,” Oh yes, this is mine and I will give it to whomever I choose”. I turned away and continued tossing the packages to the boats below. He stared at me for a few seconds and walked away. Yeah, I told him!
With so many strangers aboard the boat, we all made an extra effort to keep an eye on Nine (ship’s resident cat). We didn’t want him getting outside on the deck as we feared he may be taken. I also walked around throughout the day with Lysol pads and washed door knobs, railings and anything else that may hold germs. I was determined to keep all of us from catching something. You can never be too safe.
The first day went by quickly without any problems. Everyone worked hard from sunup to sundown. By the end of the day we were all hot and exhausted. Throughout the day, we would go inside the ship where it was air conditioned and cool down. I don’t know how the Haitians sat in the direct sun without cover for 12 hours. They didn’t’ have food or water. Throughout the day, we would throw bottled water to the crowd. They would quickly drink it down and toss the bottles into the ocean. Bottles were everywhere. I couldn’t believe they would trash their own waters, however I would soon see where they ended and it wasn’t pretty.