Thanks to some high-powered diplomatic dealings, Maine Maritime Academy’s training vessel will begin its journey to Russia early this morning.
Late Thursday, school officials learned a goodwill trip to St. Petersburg was in jeopardy because Russian officials denied docking rights to the ship because they believed it was a military vessel.
Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Rep. John Baldacci made numerous calls over the weekend to State Department and White House officials in an effort to resolve the misunderstanding.
The misunderstanding centered on the fact that the 550-foot training ship, the State of Maine, was formerly the USS Tanner, an oceanographic research vessel under the command of the U.S. Navy. The ship, which the Navy had mothballed before turning it over to the academy, is now used by the Castine school to train cadets seeking licenses as mates and maritime engineers.
Late Sunday, an MMA official aboard the State of Maine got word from a U.S. Embassy official in Tallinn, Estonia, where the ship is now docked, that the Russians were going to allow the ship to dock as scheduled.
“The academy’s leadership is delighted that this misunderstanding by a small number of Russian administrators has been clarified,” said Randolph Erb, MMA’s chief advancement officer. Erb said MMA’s academic dean, William Eisenhart, who is on board the ship along with 160 students, officers and crew, called him Sunday afternoon to report that the ship had gotten clearance to dock in Russia.
“We look forward to visiting this historic city and delivering gifts of medical supplies and winter clothing,” Erb added.
The ship, which will leave Estonia at 1 a.m. eastern time, is scheduled to arrive in St. Petersburg on Thursday. It will be the third time an MMA training vessel has visited the city.
On this visit, which will last until June 22, MMA cadets will deliver medical supplies donated by Eastern Maine Medical Center and St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor for distribution to hospitals in St. Petersburg. They will also give away 200 winter coats collected by the academy’s community service fraternity.
After leaving St. Petersburg, the State of Maine will visit Keil, Germany, before returning home to Castine in mid-July.