March 3, 2010

New shipmaster steps in for Sea Hunter

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

(Continued from page 1)

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Sea Hunter owner Greg Brooks of Gorham confers by telephone with the Coast Guard this morning.

Photo by Bill Nemitz/Staff Writer

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Volunteers, from left, Dan Kidd of Limington and Rick Woodbury of Scarborough and deckhand Shawn Jordan of Portland, secure loose items on the main deck of the Sea Hunter this morning.

Photo by Bill Nemitz/Staff Writer

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Devins, a retired oil-tanker captain with long-standing ties to Maine Maritime Academy, also expressed concern about his own liability if something were to go wrong on the 700-mile voyage to Haiti.

“I’ve got a lot to think about,” he told Brooks.

The shipmaster’s evolving to-do list also included various “housekeeping issues” aboard Sea Hunter, particularly unsecured items both on the deck and inside the ship’s living quarters.

Devins said he planned to stay with friends in Miami on Tuesday evening and would return to Sea Hunter this morning with a formal list of conditions that need to be met before he’d agree to move aboard and oversee the ship’s voyage.

“But I am going to ask that the welding be done,” Devins warned.

Normally, the large, metal containers are secured to one another and to a ship’s deck by heavy steel locking devices, Devins said.

Since Sea Hunter lacks both the devices and the means to secure them, he explained, welding is the only viable alternative.

Completing that task would require that a marine chemist come aboard and certify the ship as safe for the welding operation, Devins said.

Also, he noted, the dock owner’s permission would need to be secured – no easy feat because “they don’t want to see anything blow up.”

More likely, Devins speculated, Sea Hunter would have to go to a shipyard and hire a certified marine welder. The remedial work could easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars, he said.

Devins, wearing a shirt emblazoned with the insignia of the State of Maine, Maine Maritime Academy’s training vessel, then shook hands with Brooks and, with a sympathetic smile, departed.

With that, a somber crew of 10, along with two volunteers, gathered on the bridge to reassess a mission that has faced a seemingly endless series of obstacles since it began last month in Portland.

A defiant Brooks refused to declare the mission over.

“We have such a support base that somebody, somewhere is going to make it happen for us. I still believe that,” Brooks said. “Today it didn’t happen. Tomorrow it’s going to happen. I have to look at it that way.”

Sea Hunter remained under a “hold order” issued late last week by Coast Guard Station Miami Beach.

The order stemmed from concerns about the ship’s lack of a licensed crew and the safety of the vessel’s estimated 200 tons of cargo – including some 80 tons of relief supplies donated by individuals, organizations and businesses all over Maine.

Devins’ less-than-optimistic assessment came only hours after Brooks obtained clearance from the local U.S. Customs and Border Protection office to continue on to Haiti.

After first being told by customs officials Tuesday morning that he couldn’t sail, Brooks said, they went to another office “to make a phone call.”

Thirty minutes later, he said, the officials returned, collected a $39 fee and told him he was free to resume his voyage.

Upon returning to the then-jubilant ship, Brooks announced that he had decided to remain aboard despite a doctor’s order on Monday that he go ashore due to an apparent lung infection and high stress levels.

“I’m feeling better today than yesterday,” said Brooks, unaware of what lay ahead. “There seems to be less stress.”

Also Tuesday morning, Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Michael Lingaitis said the lifting of the hold order depended entirely on Devins. If the shipmaster expressed satisfaction with Sea Hunter’s seaworthiness, the ship could depart at once.

“That’s all we’re waiting for,” Lingaitis said.

He could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

In preparation for the trip to Haiti, Sea Hunter’s crew had spent the past two days securing the containers and other large equipment to the main deck with heavy chains.

(Continued on page 3)

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at bnemitz@pressherald.com

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Sea Hunter owner Greg Brooks briefs his crew after a successful trip to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol office Tuesday morning.

Photo by Bill Nemitz/Staff Writer

  


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