Amid safety concerns, an estimated 1,500 school children will be boarding a decommissioned Navy ship today. The organizers of the event have acknowledged it to be a public relations effort intended to promote Project Life, a controversial organization supported by Mayor Kurt Schmoke.
The children are to be bussed from area schools to Locust Point this morning and brought aboard the U.S.S. Sanctuary. Although labeled as a “city health fair on board the U.S.S. Sanctuary,” only within the past week have attempts been made to ensure the safety of the children aboard the vessel.
Earlier this week, the Port Authority and the Coast Guard inspected the boat’s mooring, and both agencies judged it to be unsatisfactory. An earlier letter from the Coast Guard’s Lieutenant Commander Brain Poskaitis stated that the “Port Safety and Security Team revealed the pier to be in an apparent state of deterioration.” The Fire Department also questioned the safety of the vessel, even though it is participating in the health fair, with a demonstration of fire safety techniques.
Most of the issues have been addressed, but a final decision had not been arrived at by the Coast Guard, as of 5 p.m. yesterday. According to Poskaitis, the Coast Guard will only sanction the event if the boat can be classified as a permanently moored vessel. Such a boat is considered an extension of land, and would not be subject to the more stringent safety codes of seafaring vessels.
Fire Department spokesman Chief Hector Torres said the department has approved the project, although other sources within the fire department had expressed concern earlier. On Wednesday, the department demanded that die number of children on board the ship at a time be reduced from 300 to 80, that the children’s access to the boat be limited, and that a special gangplank for possible evacuation be available. The Port Authority demanded that barriers and fencing be erected to ensure no heavy vehicles could enter the pier.
The other principal participants in tomorrow’s Health Fair did not investigate the safety issue. Marla
Oros, Assistant Dean at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, stated, “I am sure the Mayor is taking every precaution [Missing End of Story]