A part of the mission of the Cherese Mari Laulhere Foundation is to educate students and parents about the extreme dangers of the Semester at Sea program, by providing facts about their organizations and the links to ongoing articles written in major news publications across the country.
Semester At Sea, run by the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE) and formerly sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh, which dropped the program after safety and security concerns, is now sponsored by the University of Virginia.
The program carries over 700 college students around the world each semester aboard the MV Explorer, formerly the troubled S.S. Universe Explorer.
Since the program began in 1963, under the name University of the Seven Seas, and later, World Campus Afloat, 55,000 students have participated. Tuition, room, board and incidentals cost upwards of $20,000 per student, not including side trips at about a dozen ports-of-call. Students can select from 300 field trips organized by the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE) and Semester At Sea to give them an opportunity to learn about local history and culture.
Although the preceding are facts about the program, they don't show the program's safety record, or give information about any accidents or deaths… information not printed in Semester At Sea's brochures sent to Cherese or listed online in 1996 when she was looking into the program. (6 deaths prior to Cherese's trip)
On March 27, 1996, the worst disaster ever with the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE) and Semester At Sea happened. And the worst tragedy to our family. Our daughter, Cherese Mari Laulhere, died in India, along with three other female college students. The death toll totaled seven. They were all killed when their bus driver, who had been on duty between 30 and 50 hours, driving under the influence of alcohol and speeding, lost control of their tour bus and crashed.
The students had paid for a four day field trip in India. The itinerary for day three (March 27), was in part to fly from Varanasi to Agra and view the Taj Mahal at dusk. The Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE) and Semester At Sea knew weeks before this date that they were not going to provide air travel or to view the Taj Mahal at dusk. They decided not to tell the students, and instead put them on a bus at night. This is a tragedy that never should have happened!
Since the tragedy in 1996 to our family and the families of the other students, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, The Associated Press and several other news organizations have written about the safety issues of the Semester At Sea program. Unfortunately, the death toll did not end in 1996, as there has been many deaths since.
When the S.S. Universe Explorer was not being used by Semester At Sea, it was leased out for cruises to Alaska. In the summer of 1996 there were over 1000 people on board when a fire broke out on the ship. Five crew members died of smoke inhalation and 55 crew members were injured. Weeks later, the ship was once again sailing around the world with more than 600 American college students with the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE) and Semester At Sea.
In a press release, the Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, James Hall, stated he was very concerned. USA TODAY quoted "Hall, in a rare public criticism, on Wednesday assailed the school and the program, Semester at Sea, for allowing the ship to depart without installing a sprinkler system or individual smoke alarms." Hall said "I can't believe that responsible administrators at the University of Pittsburgh would permit this." It is shocking that the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE) and Semester At Sea would also permit this.
As printed in the LA Times, several prestigious colleges, including the University of Southern California, USC, "do not approve Semester At Sea as a study-abroad program for their students." USC recommends students interested in overseas programs "are better off spending a longer period of time in a single country, preferably on a college campus", adding Semester At Sea is "not a true study-abroad program."
It is critical to note that even though the University of Virginia now sponsors the Semester At Sea program, the same people are employed and running the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE) when the program was sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh. It is these same people who have made and continue to make horrible decisions with or without a student's consent.
safety experts give the following advice for students considering traveling abroad:
- purchase an international ID card & travel insurance providing 24/7 worldwide assistance services to students.
- verify insurance coverage away from home, regardless of what the school offers, requires or recommends.
- understand what is covered when you sign any release form.
- provided specific details on crime, illness, accidents and other perils encountered by students in the past.
- what has been done to avoid reoccurrences of incidents to students.
- how are host families screened and whether you can move to a different family if a problem develops.
- know when and how to blow the whistle if you feel your safety or health is being compromised.
- which staff member on site is responsible for safety, health and security on each trip.
- learn what procedures are in place to handle emergencies.
- what health & safety standards are applied to providers of transportation, tours, cultural programs and housing.
- written documentation how your study will be credited to your university.
You should know, that even though we did ask all the questions above and did everything we thought would ensure Cherese's safety, we were never told the truth from the people with the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE) and Semester At Sea. They never told us there were other deaths over the years, and most importantly, they NEVER told us they would lie, be negligent and take our daughter's life.
The Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE) and Semester At Sea can NEVER be trusted to tell you the truth. If they had Cherese would be alive today because she NEVER would have taken the trip.
Thank you for taking the time to read this information and please read the ongoing news articles on the right column of this page to learn why safety officials and organizations have condemned the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE) and the Semester At Sea program, including articles about the safety of students traveling abroad.
this website is not sponsored, endorsed or otherwise associated with the institute for shipboard education or semester at sea