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Students rescue Haitian refugees

A semester-at-sea ship was the only vessel available to help 49 people in a 25-foot sailboat

A semester-at-sea ship was the only vessel available to help 49 people in a 25-foot sailboat

Adrift for days in a disabled and overloaded boat, a group of Haitian refugees was rescued by students and crew aboard a sail-training and research vessel.

The 134-foot brigantine Corwith Cramer was sailing the Caribbean with 22 college students on board as part of its regular semester-at-sea program through the Sea Education Association, a group based in Woods Hole, Mass. The ship had departed Key West, Fla., weeks earlier and was about 45 miles from Jamaica. The following account is from officials at SEA.

Late on the afternoon of March 9, as most of the students were conducting a research project, a student on watch spotted a man aboard a small boat waving a red shirt. The student alerted the ship’s captain, and the Corwith Cramer headed toward the boat. As it approached they saw 49 people, including 14 children, huddled on the 25-foot sailboat, which had lost its rudder and mast en route to Jamaica. It had been at sea for five days.

The Corwith Cramer radioed the U.S. Coast Guard, which advised that there were no other vessels in the area to rescue the Haitians. The students and crew brought the refugees aboard, and gave them food and water while the Corwith Cramer headed for Port Antonio, Jamaica. They arrived some 8 hours later, around 1 a.m., and Jamaican authorities took custody of the refugees.

“The survivors were extremely grateful and very cooperative during their rescue,” says Capt. Steve Tarrant of the Corwith Cramer in a statement. “We are lucky to have been in the area and equipped to take the mission.”

“Being a part of helping these people is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life,” says SEA student Kathleen Oppenheimer of Redding, Conn.

Hundreds of Haitians have fled their homeland since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in February last year. Within the first three months 511 Haitians had left their country for Jamaica. Jamaican officials say their nation is ill-equipped to deal with the influx and will send refugees home unless there is a compelling reason to allow them to stay. However, Jamaican authorities don’t plan to deport the refugees, according to SEA spokesman Dan Cooney.

In addition to Tarrant, crewmembers included chief scientist Gary Jaroslow, three assistant scientists, three mates, an engineer, a steward and a deckhand. The students on board were from 10 states and began their semester Dec. 28 with a six-week shoreside program at the Woods Hole campus to prepare them for sea. Half the class departed Key West aboard the Corwith Cramer Feb. 9, with plans to return to the same port March 19 after several stops. Other students in the class sailed aboard SEA’s other sailing vessel, the Robert C. Seamans.