M/T Pennsylvania rescues refugees lost at sea

While transiting the Straits of Florida on April 29, the mate on watch on the M/T Pennsylvania noticed a small skiff with two white flags around 8 a.m. The Pennsylvania was leaving Port Everglades, Fla. in route to Sabine Pass. 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 onboard the skiff. The crew quickly mixed up some Gatorade and passed down a water cooler and cups to the skiff, proving to be more adequate for the situation.

The Pennsylvania crew also provided food for the refugees, including fresh fruit.

During this evolution, the bridge team communicated with United States Coast Guard 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 split 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 was Cuban military, not the United States Coast Guard. This was quickly clarified and they were greatly relieved. Around 9:40 a.m., 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 refugees' 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. American Maritime Officers represents all licensed officers on the tanker.