Gaither, students safe
after storm damages ship


School of Communications faculty member Kenn Gaither and Elon students Kelly Richards and Jenn Gilbert are safe after the ship that served as their roaming classroom was disabled in a raging storm by large waves in the Pacific Ocean.

The incident happened Jan. 26, a week after Gaither, Richards and Gilbert, along with 679 other people, left Vancouver for a "Semester at Sea." The program takes students to countries around the world while offering on-board classes in a variety of subjects. Gaither has worked on previous Semester at Sea voyages, and he is serving as an
administrator and educator on this particular voyage.

The 591-foot-long M/V Explorer was caught in a storm about 650 miles from the Aleutian Islands in gale-force winds, and two giant waves damaged its bridge and navigation equipment. The near-disaster garnered a great deal of national and international press coverage.

Here is a brief excerpt from the Feb. 4 Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger, Richards' hometown paper:

"They told everybody to put life jackets on. After that, they started separating the men and the women, and everybody got really scared," said Richards, 19, recalling the Jan. 26 incident one week later in a telephone interview from Honolulu. "We were afraid we were going to have to go in the lifeboats. People were crying. People were thinking we were going to die."

The Coast Guard dispatched a 378-foot cutter from Alaska to the stricken ship, and also called on four nearby merchant vessels to assist. Three long-range aircraft were sent - two from Alaska and one from Hawaii - said a Coast Guard official.

A spokesperson for the Institute for Shipboard Education said one of the ship's four engines was operating again within 20 minutes of the initial failure. For a time, the single engine was barely able to keep the ship's bow aimed correctly in the heavy seas, according to the Coast Guard. The ship arrived on Jan. 31 in Hawaii, a port that had not been on the itinerary, and stops in Korea and Japan were canceled. The students and faculty members took flights to China and returned to their studies.

Gaither, co-author of a forthcoming book on corporate communications, experienced an unplanned immersion in the art of crisis communications, as he helped manage the situation on the ship.

Operated by the Pittsburgh-based Institute for Shipboard Education, the Semester at Sea combines on-board university-level courses in subjects such as world literature with stops in countries such as South Korea, India, South Africa and Brazil. Tuition is $14,000 to $16,000 per semester.



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Last Modified:  2/11/05
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