A ship loaded with supplies from Maine headed for Haiti has run into problems with the Coast Guard. The 220 foot long M.V. Sea Hunter left Portland on January 31st with about 400,000 pounds worth of aid and stopped in Boston along the way to pick-up more donated items. The ship endured three major storms on its way to Miami, the final stop before heading to Haiti's southern coast, but the Coast Guard in south Florida says the ships crew is not properly licensed to leave the port.
"It basically comes down to a license," said Greg Brooks, co-manager of Sub Sea Research and an organizer of the relief effort. Brooks says the Coast Guard requires a licensed captain, first mate and engineer for his ship because it weighs more than 199 gross tons. And because his voyage to Haiti will take more than 12 hours, he also needs another stand-by crew with the same credentials.
"They called me and said, 'that this is the regulation and you have to adhere to it,' and I am saying that this is awful late in the game, why didn't you tell me this up in Maine or in Boston, not when I have got the aid on the boat and I am almost in Haiti."
Brooks says he was unaware of the need for the crew to be licensed and is asking the Coast Guard to give him a 30 day grace period to come into compliance. The grace period would give him and his crew the time to get the ship to Haiti, unload it and get home. He says he doesn't have the money or the time to get the kind of crew together the Coast Guard requires.
"The need is still there," said Brooks. "There are still people that are going hungry. There are still people that hurt. There are still people that are desperately waiting for this aid to get there." He has asked members of Maine's congressional delegation to help negotiate with the Coast Guard so the mission can continue.
"The Coast Guard boarded the boat when it was in Portland," stated Representative Chellie Pingree. "We are saying to them, hey, it was okay when it left. This is a humanitarian mission, not a commercial mission. Can't we just let them keep moving? And if you really need a captain, let us help get one on the boat as soon as possible."
According to Brooks, the Coast Guard in south Florida has asked higher ranking members in Washington for guidance on the issue. He hopes to load 20 more containers onto the ship while docked in Miami and set sail as soon as possible.
"It is breaking our hearts," said Brooks. "It is breaking mine and I am having a hard time holding this all together because it is really rough on us. It has been a long road and I am not sure what to do."