New 'Amistad' begins voyage of harmony

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The Independent US

DIgnitaries and politicians from Washington and Sierra Leone converged on the Connecticut seaport of Mystic yesterday to take part in the ceremonial launching of a full-sized replica of the Amistad, the schooner that was the scene, 161 years ago, of a mutiny by 53 African captives on the high seas.

DIgnitaries and politicians from Washington and Sierra Leone converged on the Connecticut seaport of Mystic yesterday to take part in the ceremonial launching of a full-sized replica of the Amistad, the schooner that was the scene, 161 years ago, of a mutiny by 53 African captives on the high seas.

The story of the voyage of the Amistad, a slave ship, from Sierra Leone to America in 1839, and the revolt of its human cargo was told in the 1997 film of the same name produced by Steven Spielberg. The film touched a nerve in the States and was a huge hit.

Reconstruction of the 129ft all-wood ship began two years ago and cost some $3.1m. Now it has been lowered into the Atlantic, the vessel will be fitted with masts and rigging in preparation for sea trials and a first voyage to New York City in July.

The original Amistad was in Cuban waters when the captives overpowered the Spanish crew, who had bought them in a Havana slave market, and demanded that they sail the boat to Africa. In the end, the ship made it to New York's Long Island.

In 1841, the cause of the would-be slaves was taken up by abolitionist and former US president John Quincy Adams. The case, which became a symbol for the abolitionist movement, wound up in the US Supreme Court and the 34 survivors of the voyage were finally returned to their homeland in 1842.

Among those due to attend the launch were officials from Sierra Leone and some direct descendants of the original captives. At the ready for the christening itself were pails of water from Long Island, Cuba and Sierra Leone.

"I'm so excited," Clifton Graves, a member of the board that oversaw the reconstruction of the boat, said yesterday. "This symbolises not only the historic effort for freedom, but the struggle that remains for us to make our society and the world a better place for all of our children".

After its first journey to Manhattan, the new Amistad will begin a year-round schedule of visits to seaports around the world. Organisers have vowed that the touring ship will become a symbol of racial tolerance and unity.

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