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11 in crew escape death on high seas


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POSTED: Monday, April 27, 2009

In what one survivor described as a “;miracle,”; 11 sailors aboard a traditional Chinese sailing vessel that left Oahu in February were plucked from the Pacific hours after a freighter struck their vessel, slicing it in half.

The crew, which clung to the wreckage for more than three hours, included five Hawaii residents.

The Princess TaiPing, a 53-foot replica of a Ming Dynasty wooden sailboat, capsized at 2:40 a.m. yesterday (8:40 a.m. Saturday, Hawaii time) about 35 miles from Taiwan, its destination, said Jessica Lee, an official with the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in Honolulu.

Hawaii crew members Jason Arnold, Larz Stewart, John Hunter, Elizabeth Zeiger and Jack Durham were safe and discharged from a hospital, Lee said. The only person seriously hurt was Okinawa resident Thomas William Cook, who had neck and head injuries, according to Zeiger, of Oahu.

Zeiger said she was on watch when a huge ship suddenly changed course and headed toward the TaiPing.

“;We didn't have enough time to change course,”; she told her mother via e-mail.

Zeiger said crew members shined their flashlights at the sails, but the freighter continued on a collision course.

She said the freighter ripped through the center of the vessel.

“;There was this enormous cracking and shredding of the wood,”; she said. “;We literally watched the entire ship get demolished. It was an absolute miracle that we all 11 made it out of there alive.”;

Zeiger said the crew thought the freighter would send a rescue boat, but it never did.

John Hunter II, whose son was a crew member, said he wants a thorough investigation.

“;They failed to stop and render aid,”; Hunter said.

Helicopters operated by Taiwan's coast guard rescued the crew and carried them to hospitals in Taipei.

All five Hawaii residents were staying at a hotel on Taiwan yesterday. They were recruited for the voyage when the TaiPing made a stopover in Honolulu on its return voyage to the Far East.

The TaiPing, launched in January 2008 after six years of research and development, sailed from Taiwan to Okinawa and Japan, then crossed 5,100 miles of ocean to Northern California, sailing down to San Diego before coming to Hawaii. The vessel arrived in Hawaii from San Diego on Dec. 22 and left Honolulu on Feb. 16.

Liu said the mission of the voyage was to quiet critics who had doubts about historical accounts of ancient Chinese vessels making long Pacific journeys. The Princess TaiPing received support from the local Chinese community, and some of its crew sailed with the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokule'a along Oahu's South Shore.