The Amistad Bows Out of Sailfest, Citing Local News Coverage

Jul 9, 2014

As New London gathers for its annual Sailfest, the operators of The Amistad say the famed schooner will no longer take part in the annual event.

The ship has an upcoming Coast Guard inspection that it says it needs to prepare for. But the organization that operates the ship, Amistad America, is also unhappy with the coverage it has received from New London's newspaper, The Day.

Hanifa Washington, executive director of Amistad America, says the newspaper's coverage of the organization's financial problems has been hostile and inaccurate.

Here is what she wrote to The Day:

“In my opinion speaking to the New London Day at this time is counter productive to the success of the organization of which I serve,” she wrote. “I have no faith and no reason to believe that ‘accuracy’ and ‘objectivity’ are in your publication’s vocabulary ...

“Furthermore, I would kindly ask that your staff not assume they have the right to board the vessel. It is a privilege that your staff has now lost. I can not have my crew subjugated to the malice interrogation of your staff. The crew care for and sail the ship and are not to be quoted in regards to the operations of the organization and its past.”

Tim Cotter, the managing editor of The Day, says the newspaper's stories have been accurate and he doesn't see how the coverage is relevant to the decision to attend Sailfest. The paper, however, is a sponsor of the event.

Amistad America has come under fire for various reasons. The organization lost its non-profit status after it failed to file three years of federal tax returns. Last year, the ship itself sailed to Puerto Rico to film a television miniseries...during hurricane season.

The state of Connecticut has given approximately $8 million to Amistad America and continues to give about $350,000 a year to the organization.

Last year, State Representative Diana Urban from North Stonington was very critical about the Caribbean trip.

"It's not meant to go out in heavy seas when we've made this investment," Urban told WNPR. "It's supposed to be celebrating and educating the abolitionist movement in Connecticut."

Hear more from Rep. Urban in a 2013 interview she did with WNPR's Ray Hardman:

Other news outlets have also been critical of Amistad America. In a recent editorial, the Hartford Courant called it a bipartisan issue that needs to be fought by Democrats and Republicans.

"Connecticut played a central role in the trial of the original Amistad slaves, so it is appropriate for the replica to be partially funded by state taxpayers," the Courant editorial board writes. "But as has been asked for some time now: Where did the money go?"

The answer to that question is still being investigated in a long-overdue audit. The Day reported on the progress of the organization's financial situation, including numerous bills that were still overdue.

Visitors who want to explore The Amistad can travel about 50 miles down I-95 to New Haven, where it is currently docked. In a schedule on its website, The Amistad is supposed to take part in the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival in New London in September.

This report includes information from The Associated Press.