Editor’s note: The following write-up and accompanying photo were provided by vessel master Capt. Eric Anderson, a member of the Seafarers-affiliated American Maritime Officers.
While transiting the Straits of Florida on April 29, the mate on watch on the MT Pennsylvania noticed a small skiff with two white flags around 8 a.m. The Pennsylvania was leaving Port Everglades, Florida, en route to Sabine Pass, Texas. Under closer observation, he noticed that the white flags were being waved.
Captain Eric Anderson was called immediately and rescue procedures commenced.
According to Third Mate Anthony Franchetti, as the refugees approached the Pennsylvania, it became apparent that the homemade skiff (constructed of roofing tiles and bondo-like material) was heavily overloaded with passengers. The crew of the Pennsylvania motioned to the craft, using hand signals to make it clear that the ship was going to assist them as best they could.
As the skiff grew closer, the Pennsylvania crew lowered a bucket with food and water along the port side. This allowed for the best possible lee for the situation. A line was passed so the skiff could remain alongside as the crew continued to pass more provisions. The first round of bottled water was quickly consumed and was not enough for all 29 on board the skiff. The crew quickly mixed up some Gatorade and passed down a water cooler and cups to the skiff…. The Pennsylvania crew also provided food for the refugees, including fresh fruit.
During this evolution, the bridge team communicated with United States Coast Guard (USCG) Sector Key West to arrange for USCG assets to travel to the scene.
During the exchanges, one of the 29 refugees told the Spanish-speaking crew members of the Pennsylvania that they had been at sea for the past three days, were lost, and were completely out of water.
Shortly after this remark, those aboard the skiff became separated on their next step. It appeared that those in the bow wanted to remain tethered to the Pennsylvania while those aft wished to cast off and press on to the United States. The Spanish-speaking crew of the Pennsylvania told the 29 that the Coast Guard was nearby.
This caused a panic on the skiff as the refugees thought that this meant Cuban military, not the United States Coast Guard. This was quickly clarified and they were greatly relieved. Around 9:40 a.m., those aboard the skiff decided to cast off their line and press on. Their journey was short-lived as the USCG Cutter Paul Clark and small boat 45654 both crossed the Pennsylvania’s bow and came into contact with the skiff.
With the situation now under control and the USCG on scene, the Pennsylvania resumed its voyage to Sabine Pass and the crew members went about their day as normal.
The Pennsylvania is owned by Kinder Morgan and operated by Intrepid Personnel and Provisioning.
Crew members aboard the Pennsylvania during its at sea rescue of an overloaded skiff of refugees included Captain Eric Anderson, Bosun Homar McField, QMED Michael Birke, AB Agustin Miranda, Second Mate Christopher Bell, Third Mate Emmanuel Zamora, Third Mate Anthony Franchetti, Second Assistant Engineer Michael Goins, AB Eddie Ebanks, AB Daniel Caballero, First A.E. Robert Norris, Recertified Steward Exxl Ronquillo, Third A.E. James Lavallee, Chief Engineer David Leddy, Cook/Baker Tamara Russ, Chief Mate Edward Mallon, AB Emilio Gonzalez, AB Mickey Keith, GVA Amer Mousa, Pumpman Tyrone Ellis and SA Francisco Calix.