Dutch pupils divert to avoid volcano eruption

Dutch pupils affected by sudden and explosive volcano eruption on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent.

30 Dutch pupils on board the tall ship Wylde Swan had to change course when the La Soufriere volcano on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent suddenly started erupting last Friday. The pupils were anchored just a few dozen miles from the volcano and after last night’s rain, a layer of volcanic ash coats the deck.

The pupils, who are sailing with the Masterskip ocean-sailing educational programme, will probably not be able to return to the largest island Saint Vincent where the volcano is. The plan was to land there at the beginning of the week for clearance, a PCR test and to pick up a number of essential parts for the machine room that have been in shipping for two weeks and are now awaiting collection in the island’s capital Kingstown.

Contact with the ship

Director Christophe Meijer is in close contact with Captain Marco van der Werf on the Wylde Swan. “I understand from the captain that immediately after the eruption, the local authority created an app group for all the ships in the area. That means we stay informed about what’s happening.” Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is made up of 32 islands and the situation is different for each island. Meijer: “The one island is just covered in volcanic ash, but on another the whole social infrastructure is disrupted and everyone is wearing dust goggles and Saraha-like clothing covering their nose and mouth to keep out the sulphur and the dust. The people on the island with the volcano, that is erupting with a show of light, thunder and a deep growling noise, are being evacuated.” The app group also shares a lot of photos of what is happening and where.

Delivery of ship’s parts

“We understood from the other ships that sailing to Kingstown would no longer be possible, so we now trying to get the parts we ordered to us by boat taxi. We really need those parts! The north-east trade wind is blowing the ash to the south-west and that’s exactly where we need to be to sail the pupils back to Sint Maarten,” says Wilde Swan’s Meijer. “The theme of this five-week Masterskip trip is NATURE. As we always use the world as our classroom, we are making the most of the situation and using the volcano in our lessons.

It is unclear how the eruptions will develop, and it seems as this is just the beginning. The volcano on Martinique, Mount Pelée, has been showing increased activity the past two days and we need to sail past there too. Masterskip will have to improvise to keep everything on track and we’re sure that this will mean everything will be fine.