A Spanish pirate ship, called the Guerrero was wrecked December 19, 1927 on a reef near Key Largo, Florida. It was wrecked while carrying a cargo of five hundred and sixty-one (561) African people. These African people were being carried to Cuba to be sold to plantation owners. The Guerrero met its doom after the British Navy schooner, HMS Nimble, intercepted it while patrolling the waters near the Bahamas for illegal slavers. A chase began near Orange City in the western Bahamas, and ended a few hours later when both ships struck the shallow, hard bottom at Carysfort Reef, near Key Largo Florida. The impact sank the Guerrero in the shallows, drowning forty-one (41) of the captive Africans. The Nimble was luckier; and with much difficulty it was eventually floated free.
The story did not end there, though. After good Samaritans came with wrecking vessels to the aid of both ships; the Guerrero's crew hijacked the rescuing vessel and made their way to Cuba with nearly four hundred Afreicans. Those on the damaged Nimble could only watch as the pirates got away. The Nimble did eventually make its way to Key West, Florida with one hundred, twenty-one (121) of the rescued Africans. The rescued Africans spent a long period of time living as virtual slaves, and it wasn't until 10 years later that those Africans that survived were taken to Liberia, Africa to begin life anew. Historian Gail Swanson has published a book, The Slave Ship Guerrero, (Infinity Press, 2001), which nicely summarizes the saga from the time of the ship's sinking, to the lives of the African survivors who lived in Liberia, Africa.
NABS member, Kenneth Stewart, learned of the Guerrero after viewing and participating in a documentary called, "The Guerrero Project". He found out that the National Park Service lacked the resources and manpower to search for the Guerrero and other shipwrecks. Stewart went to work contacting members of NABS to encourage them to participate in assisting the National Park Service in finding this shipwreck, as well as mapping other wrecks in the Park. It was out of this effort that Diving With A Purpose (DWP) was born. One of the primary missions of DWP has been to train enough divers to participate in the search for the Guerrero. DWP has been very successful. In 2009, the United States Department of Interior awarded DWP with the "Take Pride In America National Award". Also, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) is recognizing DWP Archeological Surveying as a PADI Specialty.
After six (6) years of training with DWP, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society invited select DWP members to join the Search for the slave ship Guerrero. The expedition was called "The Search". The DWP team included, Ken Stewart (DWP Program Director); Erik Denson (DWP Lead Instructor); Erly Thornton (DWP Lead Instructor); Dr. Albert Jose Jones (NABS Science Committee Chair and DWP Instructor); and Jay Haigler (DWP Instructor). The Search started in Key Largo, Florida on July 5th and ended on July 12th. Team Guerrero found many artifacts such as boat ballasts, iron nail fasteners, old bottles and a piece of a plate. The weather cooperated with the Search. The water temperature was in the upper 80's and visibility was greater than fifty (50) feet most days. There were some challenges, such as boat engine breakdown and sudden electrical storms, but Team Guerrero persevered.
A website and blog has been set up for those who would like to get the latest information on the Search for The Guerrero. The website is: www.thesearchguerrero.ning.com . Log on and register to find out more information.
There is more work to be done so, anyone who is interested in DWP, now is the time to get ready for the program next year.
Article submitted by Jay Haigler, UAS