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About Robert Frump
Robert R.Frump is a nationally recognized journalist who won several major awards while a journalist and investigative reporter at The Philadephia Inquirer. He grew up in the small farm town of Paxton, Ill, graduated from the University of Illinois and received a master's degree from Northwestern University -- all in journalism. He received, with Tim Dwyer, the George Polk Award, for his reporting on unsafe U.S. ships, and the Gerald Loeb Award for National Business Reporting. He was also a member of an Inquirer task force that won the Pulitzer Prize. He is married to Suzanne Saxton-Frump. They have two daughters, Sarah, a student at Brown University, and Caitlin Dean, a software engineer. He is the former managing editor of The Journal of Commerce.
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In 1983 the Marine Electric, a “reconditioned” World War II vessel, was on a routine voyage thirty miles off the East Coast of the United States when disaster struck. As the old coal carrier sank, chief mate Bob Cusick watched his crew–his friends and colleagues–succumb to the frigid forty-foot waves and subzero winds of the Atlantic. Of the thirty-four men aboard, Cusick was one of only three to survive. And he soon found himself facing the most critical decision of his life: whether to stand by the Merchant Marine officers’ unspoken code of silence, or to tell the truth about why his crew and hundreds of other lives had been unnecessarily sacrificed at sea.
Like many other ships used by the Merchant Marine, the Marine Transport Line's Marine Electric was very old and made of “dirty steel” (steel with excess sulfur content). Many of these vessels were in terrible condition and broke down frequently. Yet the government persistently turned a blind eye to the potential dangers, convinced that the economic return on keeping these ships was worth the risk.
Cusick chose to blow the whistle.
Until the Sea Shall Free Them re-creates in compelling detail the wreck of the Marine Electric and the legal drama that unfolded in its wake. With breathtaking immediacy, Robert Frump, who covered the story for the Philadelphia Inquirer, describes the desperate battle waged by the crew against the forces of nature. Frump also brings to life Cusick's internal struggle. He knew what happened to those who spoke out against the system, knew that he too might be stripped of his license and prosecuted for "losing his ship," yet he forged ahead. In a bitter lawsuit with owners of the ship, Cusick emerged victorious. His expose of government inaction led to vital reforms in the laws regarding the safety of ships; his courageous stand places him among the unsung heroes of our time.
My effort touches on the broad sweep and events of the tragedy and investigation, but if you want the detailed story of the final voyage of the ship, you’re better off with the other books. My main goal here is to show how the SS El Faro fit into a larger system and culture — one that I have been covering off and on as a journalist and author for 38 years.
It’s this system, I feel, that will result in another SS El Faro someday unless it is reformed.
Another note on style. My preference in non-fiction is “narrative.” In other words, whenever I can, I tell a story and show what is happening; I prefer that to “telling” the reader, because I think “showing” is more readily absorbed. Humans learn through stories. Story telling rather than a lecture better illustrates the emotions at play here, as well as the moods, culture and vibe of the ship and the industry. This does not mean I take a pure poetic license. The dialogue quoted here is real, not made up. The material is factual.
Night time is a different story. It is then that the lions of Kruger seek out refugees from Mozambique -- and prey upon them as if they were zebra or impala.
What causes this phenomenon, which may have claimed thousands of human lives? There are many answers, but the apartheid history of South Africa, still impacting the nation years after its demise, is a chief suspect.