Freighter Stranded in Ike's Path

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This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," September 12, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HEATHER NAUERT, HOST: Twenty-two people were trapped on a freighter in Hurricane Ike's path, and they must now be forced to ride out the storm.

They're on a ship and it's called Antalina and it's carrying industrial fuel. It was left dead in the water about 90 miles southeast of Galveston after its engines died earlier this morning.

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The Coast Guard has been working all day to come up with a rescue plan but it now says that the winds are too strong to send anyone in to evacuate those 22 men.

With us now is Rear Admiral Joel Whitehead. He's the 8th Coast Guard commander for the U.S. Coast Guard.

Welcome, sir. Thanks for joining us.


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NAUERT: Tell us about the condition of this ship. We are talking 22 men aboard a freighter that is the size of two football fields. You were looking at it earlier today trying to get out, to rescue these guys but the conditions are just too bad to do that.

WHITEHEAD: Yes, we became aware of the situation with this vessel earlier this morning. It was actually leaving one of the gulf ports trying to get to a more safer location with the advent of Ike coming in. And we did start a search and rescue mission. We sent out a Falcon jet aircraft to evaluate the area for the winds and see what kind of conditions and we're to do a search and rescue mission, and then we also sent up two HH-60 Jayhawk helicopters that would have been able to get all 22 members.

As they approached in the area, they just came upon winds that were far in excess of what we could operate in, over 80 knots of winds, one half mile visibility and 20 or more foot seas which would make the helicopter, you know, hovering over a violently-moving ship to be a very dangerous thing to do.

NAUERT: Absolutely.

WHITEHEAD: So, we are monitoring communications with the ship every -- at least every hour, to see what their condition is. And as soon as we can get back in there after Ike has gone by, we'll be there.

NAUERT: Yes. I'm just trying to imagine what that rescue attempt would have looked like, if you got this big ship and you're dealing with 20-foot high waves and you got a helicopter and this ship doesn't have the power -- normally a ship would position itself going directly into the wind but without power, it can't even do that. That would have to be just disastrous for your men and for potentially the ship, too. So, what do you tell these guys to do as they're riding out the storm?

WHITEHEAD: Well, we have been discussing it with them all day, and I think we've been convinced that this is the safest thing for everyone to do at this point. They'll ride it out as well as we can. We are monitoring what the seas are in the area through buoys and just seeing what the conditions are and we're in communication with them. And as soon as the eye moves over them and once they're free of those winds, we'll be right back in there.

NAUERT: How common is something like this where a big ship gets stuck in the middle of a hurricane?

WHITEHEAD: I don't think it's all that common. I can't find any fault with them all. But certainly, they were trying to avoid, you know, what certainly is going to be, maybe a worse condition in some of the gulf ports.

NAUERT: All right. Sir, we're going to have to leave it there.
Thank you so much for joining us and best of luck to you and all your men. I'm sure you're going to be very, very busy over are the next few days.

WHITEHEAD: Thank you.

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