Friday, March 26, 2010

Wells Resident Steps Up to Assist Haiti Aid Mission

By Larry Favinger
Staff Columnist
A Wells man is home after delivering aid to the people of Haiti.
Kevin Garthwaite, 57, a 1971 graduate of Wells High School and a 1976 graduate of the Maine Maritime Academy, stepped up when a ship filled with donations from Maine people ran into red tape in Florida en route to the earthquake ravaged island.
The 220-foot MV Sea Hunter, owned by Greg Brooks of Sub Sea Research, was in limbo as no one on the crew had the license required by the United States Coast Guard to take the ship to Haiti.
Garthwaite, whose brothers Jerry and Peter also graduated from Wells and Maine Maritime and went to sea, was home when he read about the Sea Hunter’s problems in getting to its proposed destination.
“I was pretty sure I had the credentials that were required,” he said in a Tuesday interview.
Having been home only a month and a half after five-and-a half months away, he asked his wife, Marguerite, about joining the humanitarian effort.
“I said I think I can do something here and she said go for it,” he said.
So he went to Florida to look the operation over. After talking with Sea Hunter’s captain, Gary Esper, Brooks and the Coast Guard, he was “comfortable with the operation” and joined the effort. “That kind of freed the boat up,” he said.
It took just about three days to complete the trip and the ship dropped anchor at Miragoane, the only port that had the heavy equipment preferred for unloading the ship. The port is about 50 miles from Port au Prince where much of the damage occurred.
Extended negotiations were then held with the local government officials concerning various aspects of the unloading process, he said, although he was not directly involved in those talks.
“We hung around there waiting to get into the dock,” Garthwaite said. “To call it red tape is an understatement.”
Unable to reach an agreement there, the Sea Hunter moved to Les Cayes and anchored about eight miles off the island and, again, waited for permission to go in.
Garthwaite said there was little damage in Les Cayes but refugees from the quake area were coming to that town, overloading the infrastructure capabilities.
Following another set of talks with the local government, the unloading of the ship began.
During the time there, Garthwaite said, a lot of canoes, outriggers, and other small boats came to the ship looking for the cargo. Due to the number of boats and the urgency to get supplies “it got out of hand a few times” but Haitian police and United Nations Security boats kept everything under control, Garthwaite said.
“It was extremely poor,” he said of the area. “It kind of shocked me.”
Garthwaite said he was on board because of Coast Guard regulations and not because of any problem with the captain. “I was there advising him,” he aid. “They didn’t have a lot of experience around cargo. I had a license and the Coast Guard required that.”
Garthwaite, who said he generally serves as second mate and navigation officer, has experience gained working on container ships and other cargo vessels.
He works mostly out of the Masters Mates and Pilots Union Halls in Long Beach and San Francisco, Calif.
Finally back from Haiti, he said he would probably return to sea sometime this summer.