High school on the open seas.
The boat that sank was a floating high school of sorts, based out of a company in Lunenberg, N.S.
The Class Afloat program teaches high-school curriculum to students aged 16 to 19 on the tall ship Concordia as it sails to ports in Europe, South America, Africa and the Caribbean. The program includes students from around the world. Of the 64 students and crew aboard the vessel this semester, 42 were Canadians.
The staff in Lunenberg first heard of the trouble on the morning of Feb. 18, when the school received word that the signal from the vessel's EPIRB distress radio had reached Brazilian authorities.
"We don"t know at that point if there"s been a failure, or if our worst fears had been confirmed and the EPIRB was in the water," said Nigel McCarthy, the program's CEO.
"We're like a little family here," he said. "Any time our children are at risk, we feel afraid. There's no more simple way to say it than that."
Mr. McCarthy credited the experience of the crew and diligence in running safety drills ? "just like a fire drill in a school" ? for saving the students. He called the ordeal "a miracle at sea."
Most students spend a full year on the ship, though it is possible to do a single semester, so some students had been at sea only a few weeks before the ship sank.
Mr. McCarthy wouldn't comment on exactly what will happen to the students' class time now, but said the program was formulating a plan so that the semester wouldn't be lost. Darren Farwell, whose daughter Keaton arrived on shore this morning, said there were tentative plans to continue classes on land in Lunenberg, and that the students could be back to school there by March 15.
The vessel left Nova Scotia in September, and had already sailed across the Atlantic and as far east as Turkey before spending the Christmas period working on a development project in Senegal. After a winter break, the students and crew resumed their journey.
"It wasn't a vacation," said Christie Johnson, whose son David Saabas is among the students who were rescued. The students had shipboard responsibilities as well as attending classes and doing projects at the different ports they visited. "It was a life-building challenge," she said.