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April 28, 2005

Semester at Sea seeks donations

After a 50-foot wave rocked the Semester at Sea ship in January, waylaying the vessel in Hawaii, the ship again steamed ahead and is expected to conclude its voyage today, April 28, in Fort Lauderdale.

But overcoming adversity came at a cost: $1.5 million for additional expenses such as repairs to the program’s ship, the MV Explorer, and new travel arrangements.

Les McCabe, president of the Institute of Shipboard Education (ISE) that administers Semester at Sea, wrote to friends and alumni of the program, requesting donations to cover the extra expenses:

“As you know, the spring 2005 voyage had an extremely difficult Pacific crossing that resulted in extensive damage to our ship. Fortunately, injuries on board were minor and — to the credit of the entire shipboard community — spirits and enthusiasm remained high. Nevertheless, enormously high costs and tremendously complicated logistics put the voyage’s continuation in jeopardy.”

Insurance didn’t cover all of the damage and ISE still is negotiating with the insurer over coverage, according to ISE officials.

When the vessel was damaged by a storm in the North Pacific, en route to South Korea, the ship changed course to dock in Hawaii for repairs, where it would stay for two weeks. The electronics on the bridge needed replacing, requiring imported parts and technicians, according to Julian Asenjo, ISE associate director of enrollment management. Once the work was done, the ship remained in port for inspections.

While the MV Explorer was being repaired, students, faculty and staff continued their cross-cultural educational odyssey, flying, instead of sailing, to Hong Kong and Vietnam.

Although the academic program proceeded with classes held in hotels at scheduled ports-of-call, there was a catch: ISE paid for airfare, transportation and lodging for some 780 students, faculty and staff while the ship was being repaired in Hawaii, Asenjo said.

According to Susan Hansen, academic dean for the spring voyage and Pitt professor of political science, students, faculty and staff resumed Semester at Sea activities quickly: “We lost only one day of classes after ‘The Wave’ hit, and students, staff, and crew raced around to pick things up and get rooms ready for classes. We held classes on board ship in Honolulu while the repair teams worked all around us. We treated Hawaii as a regular port in terms of field programs, and on very short notice the faculty and our tireless field office set up field trips to the volcanoes, Pearl Harbor, Chinatown, the Polynesian Cultural Center, the zoo and area museums.”

After repairs and inspections were completed, the ship reunited with its passengers in Vietnam. Then it was smooth sailing for the rest of the trip, with a stop in India where students helped to rebuild a school in tsunami-ravaged Chennai, according to Asenjo.

Persons who want to help shore up the Semester at Sea deficit should send donations, made out to “ISE” or “University of Pittsburgh/Semester at Sea” to 811 William Pitt Union; credit card donations can be made by calling 1-800/854-0195.

For more information, go to

—Mary Ann Thomas

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