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Pitt ends support for Semester at Sea, spurring suit

PITTSBURGH -- The University of Pittsburgh has dropped its sponsorship of the Semester at Sea program, citing concerns about safety months after startled students were tossed around by a huge wave in the Pacific.

The nonprofit Institute for Shipboard Education, which operates the program, responded with a lawsuit against the university Friday, saying the pullout violates Pitt's contract and may cause irreparable harm to the floating study-abroad program.

In January, a 50-foot wave temporarily disabled a Semester at Sea ship, injuring two crew members and tossing hundreds of people around. The ship, the Explorer, had 990 people aboard, including nearly 700 students. It later limped into Honolulu Harbor for repairs.

In a letter to the institute's chief executive officer, John Tymitz, Pitt provost James Maher cited several factors, including unresolved issues regarding the deaths of five participants in a bus accident during an India trip in 1996.

Maher also wrote that the university was concerned with the ship used in the winter voyage and the program's decision to visit Kenya this year despite a US State Department travel advisory.

''We found ourselves in the position of a frustrated spouse who has tried to keep the marriage going but in the end has to accept that it's over," university spokesman Robert Hill said.

Tymitz did not immediately return a call for comment yesterday.

Hill said the decision will not affect a trip set to depart June 17.

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