March 6, 2010

Sea Hunter's supplies reach the hands of Haitian people

By Bill Nemitz

(Continued from page 1)

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Haitian workers at the dock in Les Cayes transfer relief supplies Friday from Sea Hunter onto a truck for transport to Hope Village, an orphanage and community assistance program operated by the Rev. Marc Boisvert, a native of Lewiston.

Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

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A United Nations Police patrol boat arrives at Sea Hunter’s anchorage Friday morning to provide security during the offloading operations off the coast of Les Cayes, Haiti.

Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

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While the TV camera continued to roll, Haitian immigration officials dutifully examined the Americans' passports and counted (and recounted) the names on Sea Hunter's crew list.

Aubourg, still clutching the microphone, then interviewed Vital and a few of the other officials before once again addressing the camera.

Finally, the entourage headed outside, where Aubourg narrated a video tour of Sea Hunter and had Vital interview Brooks.

"I love the Haitian people," Brooks said while Aubourg nodded approvingly at Vital's translation. "And after the earthquake, I just felt that I had to do something."

Meanwhile, customs agent Gary Clerveau did a cursory inspection of the cargo – including a peek inside one container – and said the offloading could commence immediately.

"No problem," Clerveau said, speaking through Vital. "You can offload now."

Clerveau had told Vital on Thursday that the operation could not begin until he had a formal ship manifest. But on Friday, all Clerveau appeared to have in hand were Sea Hunter's original packing lists.

And so the offload began – with a surprise.

The Rev. Robinson Lefranc, known as "Pastor Bob," came aboard the ship to claim a 6,200-pound solar-powered water desalinator that was donated by a New Jersey company to his Light and Peace Mission, near Port-au-Prince.

Pastor Bob, who was last seen eight days earlier during a failed attempt to offload the desalinator in the port of Miragoane, said he'd hired a boat to take the machine ashore in Les Cayes and an excavator to load it onto a truck.

With all eyes on Sea Hunter's 40-ton crane, chief engineer Ryder deftly lifted the cube-shaped device and gently lowered it into the middle of the beamy wooden boat.

"It is God's blessing," said a smiling Pastor Bob. "Last night we had many, many people praying for this."

They might want to keep praying: On the shore, the excavator lifted the desalinator by four guide hooks on the top of the device, rather than the lifting hooks on the bottom. When it was last seen, the desalinator was sitting cockeyed on the back of a large truck, its solar panels askew and snagged on the truck's wooden-slat sides.

With the desalinator gone, a fleet of 10 landing boats hired by Hope Village quickly surrounded Sea Hunter, ringed by smaller dugouts and sailboats that occasionally were shooed away by the U.N. security vessels' sirens.

For the next four hours, cardboard boxes, wooden cartons and various other parcels went hand-to-hand from the containers into the boats – the constant din of the workers punctuated by the occasional command over one of several bullhorns.

Controversy arose late in the afternoon, when several Sea Hunter crew members noticed Clerveau, the customs agent, putting some items in his briefcase and setting others aside in a small, separate pile.

Rick Woodbury, a Sea Hunter volunteer from Scarborough, said one of the boxes was marked "cameras" while others contained food and toiletries.

"Whenever I saw him shuffling something off to one side, I grabbed it when his guys weren't looking and put it into one of the boats," Woodbury said. "That's how I got my satisfaction."

Dan Kidd, a volunteer from Limington, opted for a more direct approach.

"You're stealing from the Haitian people!" Kidd, apparently forgetting that he was holding an open knife in his hand, bellowed at Clerveau. "You should be ashamed of yourself!"

Later, after the situation had been defused by several Haitian intermediaries, Clerveau said through a somewhat reluctant interpreter (Vital was not available) that he was only doing his job.

Asked directly if he was stealing supplies for his personal use, Clerveau replied, "No. I am not."

(Continued on page 3)

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Additional Photos

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A small fleet of Haitian boats, monitored by two United Nations patrol boats, makes it way alongside Sea Hunter as offloading operations get under way Friday. “This is what we started out in Portland for,” said Sea Hunter’s owner, Greg Brooks.

Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist


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